Braves non-tender utility standout Charlie Culberson
Charlie Clutch is headed for free agency.
Utility standout Charlie Culberson, who developed into one of baseball’s better reserves while helping the Atlanta Braves capture back-to-back National League East titles, is now on the free-agent market after the franchise declined to tender him a contract offer on Monday night.
The 30-year-old’s arbitration salary was projected to cost $1.8 million.
The Braves tendered contracts to all but one of their remaining arbitration-eligible players: Shane Greene, Mike Foltynewicz, Adam Duvall, Dansby Swanson, Luke Jackson, Johan Camargo and Grant Dayton. The organization also declined to tender contracts to outfielder Rafael Ortega and catcher John Ryan Murphy, who played in one game for Atlanta in 2019.
Atlanta now has three open spots on its 40-man roster.
The franchise can still entertain free-agent contract offers with all three players.
With 2019 bench options Matt Joyce, Francisco Cervelli, Adeiny Hechavarría and Billy Hamilton hitting free agency following veteran catcher Brian McCann‘s retirement, the Braves’ front office will have a few bench roles to fill this offseason, particularly with MLB transitioning to 26-man rosters in 2020. After signing catcher Travis d’Arnaud (two years, $16 million) to pair with Tyler Flowers, the projected bench currently includes Camargo, Duvall, Austin Riley and one of the two catching options.
(If the Braves do not address their third-base opening, Riley and/or Camargo will likely see time there and open up yet another bench spot. A six-man bench including three catchers could also open the door for rookie and former top-10 pick Alex Jackson, who played in four games last season.)
Originally acquired in the Braves-Dodgers financial blockbuster involving Matt Kemp, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir and Adrian Gonzalez — the first major maneuver of general manager Alex Anthopoulos’s tenure — Culberson provided immediate value in Atlanta. During his first season, he enjoyed a career year at the plate, slashing .270/.326/.466 with 12 home runs while playing seven different positions including pitcher. His penchant for delivering homers in key moments, particularly against the rival Washington Nationals, earned him the “Charlie Clutch” moniker.
Culberson, a local product out of Calhoun, Ga., could not replicate his strong 2018 numbers last season, but he still proved to be a valuable bench piece for manager Brian Snitker. In 144 plate appearances, he hit five home runs with a .437 slugging percentage.
His season ended abruptly in Washington D.C. when he was hit in the face by a Fernando Rodney pitch, a scary scene resulting in multiple facial fractures and a missed playoff appearance.
“Charlie means a lot to all of us in here,” Donaldson said following the incident at Nationals Park. “Great guy. Great clubhouse guy. Does his job.”
During his two seasons in Atlanta, only Donaldson, Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies posted higher slugging percentages among teammates with 400 or more plate appearances. He was also Atlanta’s nominee for the 2019 Roberto Clemente Award. Foltynewicz described Culberson as “one of the best teammates you could have.”
His overall performance, notably his on-base percentage, dipped in Year 2, but Culberson gave the franchise everything it could have hoped for (and more), transitioning from a Dodgers postseason cult figure to a key piece in consecutive Braves’ playoff runs.