(Updated: 1:45 p.m.)
A lot has been made of the fact that the suddenly free-spending Braves spent nearly $300 million dollars on contract extensions for five members of the team’s young core, an achievement for which general manager Frank Wren deserves to be commended.
But lost amid all of the parades and confetti over the signings of Julio Teheran, Freddie Freeman and others was a simple fact: Wren did nothing of significance in the offseason to acquire talent and improve the team from 2013.
If you wondered whether the decision to not add a top-of-the-rotation pitcher even before arms started exploding in spring training, how precarious is the situation now?
We’ll learn soon if Kris Medlen, the Braves’ expected opening day starter and easily their best pitcher since being moved from the bullpen in 2012, is done for the season. Even if that’s not the case, he likely will be shelved for a while. An MRI on Medlen’s right elbow showed “involvement of the ligament,” Wren said Tuesday, which is convoluted way of saying: “It’s damaged.”
The extent of Medlen’s injury, suffered early in a spring training start against New York, can’t yet be determined. That’s because he’s already had Tommy John surgery once (2010) and the resulting scar tissue from that makes it difficult to quickly decipher whether a second surgery is needed. So, he’ll get a second opinion. But for what it’s worth, Braves reliever Jonny Venters went through this same exercise and wound up having to go through a second elbow reconstruction. So that’s the unofficial betting favorite.
Welcome to your 2014 Braves’ nightmare. In March.
Wren can’t assume Medlen is going to be fine. He can’t assume Brandon Beachy (elbow stiffness; pitched only five games in 2013 after surgery). He can’t assume Mike Minor (shoulder stiffness) is going to be fine.
That’s three of the top four starters. The other, 23-year-old Julio Teheran, is the relative staff ace now and the likely No. 1 starter on opening day.
(Expected bottom-of-the-rotation starter Gavin Floyd, who had Tommy John surgery last May, also will start the season on the disabled list. But I didn’t make a big deal about Floyd when the Braves got him so I won’t start now.)
Wren could not have done anything in the offseason to prevent the injuries to the pitching staff. But his decision to not spend money or assets to acquire a top-of-the-rotation starter now is coming back to bite him.
The problem now is other teams are generally done making major moves. Every other general manager knows the Braves are desperate. Wren will ask for a pitcher; they’ll ask for a private island.
“It’s worrisome, let’s put it that way,” Wren said at the team’s spring training complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. “We still feel like we have the makings of a very good pitching staff, but you need depth at this level, because you just never know what’s going to happen, and we’ve seen that over the last two days, how your depth can go to a shortage. And so we’re evaluating, we’re exploring other opportunities, and that’s all we can do at this point.”
Ervin Santana, a talented but erratic free agent pitcher, has been central to speculation the last few days. Santana has had contract talks with Toronto and Baltimore, among others.
Should the Braves pursue Santana? Yes. Do I believe they will? Not really. Wren doesn’t like taking what he perceives as an expensive risk. (Santana’s potential cost: price: $14 million for one year; $50 million for four.).
Wren likely will operate as he has in the past. He’ll act calm. He’ll go through the first month or so of the season and then take a temperature of his team and others in the National League East.
But with the injuries to the starting rotation, the Braves are not nearly the team they were before spring. They’re weakened. If Wren had added another arm in the winter, the situation wouldn’t be nearly as dire.