Yes, this is premature. Yes, this is speculation.
But there’s both room and reason for doing this premature speculation.
Brandon had the awful news for us earlier: Kris Medlen left the game today in Port St. Luice with an apparent elbow injury. Here’s why I think it’s much more serious than the reported “right forearm strain”:
- For one thing, Medlen is holding his upper arm in the video – not the forearm.
- He didn’t even wait around to discuss the issue, but left in the middle of an at bat.
- He’s been here before. This isn’t his first arm issue. He knows what it feels like.
- In fact, he really knows what it feels like. Compare the above video (today) to this one from four years ago. Eerily similar to today’s video (hat tip to Editor Jeff Schafer).
There was this comment from manager Fredi Gonzalez after the game:
#Braves Fredi G: “Keep our fingers crossed. But I feel a lot better after talking to our medical people. We might be OK.”
— David O’Brien (@ajcbraves) March 9, 2014
He also said “I think after everything kind of settled down, we’re optimistic that it’s nothing really major.”
I sure hope so, but it wasn’t his elbow. Of course I hope I’m wrong. But now let’s start to collect our thoughts and think of what’s liable to happen next – either way.
Best Case Scenario. Today is March 9. Opening Day is 3 weeks away (Monday, March 31st at Milwaukee). Medlen was going to start that game. He will not – period. Even if it’s “only” a strain, the team will treat him with kid gloves until he can return. That could be anywhere from 1-2 months, depending on the severity.
Worst Case Scenario. Season-ending surgery – which for him would be a second Tommy John surgery (first one happened in 2010). This would be a surprise, given that his first one was in 2010. Four years is not unheard of to have problems again, but it’s also on the early end of the spectrum.
Frankly, I’m not certain there are any other possible scenarios – it’s really probably one or the other.
Before getting to the actual question on what the Braves might do, let’s first insure we’re aware of the complications involved – and there are several:
- Complication #1 is that Mike Minor still hasn’t thrown a pitch in a Spring game. He was already behind on his own throwing problem, and was likely to open the season in the #4 or #5 slot as a result.
tweet update on that from this afternoon:
— David O’Brien (@ajcbraves) March 9, 2014
- Possible Complication #2: Brandon Beachy lost velocity in the 3rd inning of his last start. So far, the word is that he was intentionally backing down to not overdo things as he continues to recover. Let’s hope that this is an accurate assessment.
- Complication #3: Freddy Garcia got hammered in yesterday’s game. For now I’ll attribute that to two factors: (1) getting squeezed on strike calls; and (2) his wife was in labor – he bolted home for Miami after leaving the game. Regardless, though; I have one prediction: barring any setbacks of his own, Garcia just made the club, as of today.
- Complication #4: Yes, Gavin Floyd is on the roster, but he had Tommy John surgery plus – his arm needed much more extensive work, so while he’s now resumed throwing, you’d have to think that his earliest start date is sometime in June… at least. [others have suggested May - I am more pessimistic here].
- Complication #5: Given the official declaration of payroll for 2014, the Braves are now at their $100 million self-imposed limit. This thanks to the checks written for the recent contract extensions. Can they exceed that? Yes. By how much? Unknown – it is entirely their call.
What Can the Braves/Frank Wren Do?
Frank Wren’s reaction will depend on the severity of the injury. In the best case scenario, I expect they do nothing. Freddy Garcia is available. David Hale is available. Alex Wood slides to the 4th rotation spot. For 1-2 months, Atlanta could “make do” with what they have.
But if Kris is lost for the year… then something more drastic will likely have to be done. Let’s see what the possibilities are:
- Try to sign free agent Ervin Sanatana. The good news here is that he’s very recently changed his demands and wants a single-year $14 million-ish contract, thinking he’ll be a stud again (as he was in 2013), and thus could re-enter the market in 2014 with a solid 2-year track record. This works for Atlanta given that they would not want a long-term deal either. If the Braves opt to give him a call, here’s how it would go down:
> Persuade him to wait for a couple of days to decide between Toronto and Baltimore to give Atlanta a chance to know Medlen’s fate.
> Offer him $15m – a bump of a million over the Baltimore/Toronto bids (as reported). If this happens, he’d be in uniform by Wednesday… unless those other teams are miffed enough to raise the pot further.
- Free agent cast offs. ‘Tis the season. Brad Penny is available right now. Others will be too, but this means playing a waiting game… which isn’t Wren’s usual mode of operation.
- A trade. This can take one of two forms:
> Form 1 (more likely): find a pitcher that may be cut in the next couple of weeks… or maybe one that a team still has in a rotation battle… and make an offer that will resolve their own quandry. This could allow Wren to choose better options.
> Form 2 (1% likelihood): revisit a bigger trade name (David Price, Max Scherzer). This means spending the price (in prospects) that were asked about back in December. Translation: very expensive. Don’t hold your breath: I just can’t see this happening.
Though it’s never a good time to have these things happen, the timing limits the good options, for sure.
But first things first: let’s see if Kris is okay.