Mar 9, 2014; Port St. Lucie, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez (33) accompanies injured starting pitcher Kris Medlen (54) off the field in spring training action at Tradition Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

Speculation: What if Medlen is Really Hurt?

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 earlierKris 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:



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 elbowOf 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.


Two possibilities

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.


Complicating Factors

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:

  • Possible Complication #2Brandon Beachy lost velocity in the 3rd inning of his last startSo 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 #3Freddy 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 nothingFreddy 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 eitherIf 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 seasonBrad 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 expensiveDon’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.


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Tags: Atlanta Braves Kris Medlen

  • daniceleigh

    I certainly wish the best for Medlen & hope it’s nothing serious! The only thing is, in your article you mentioned Santana, but I just read he signed with Toronto on a 1-yr 14mil deal after firing his agent, so he’s out of the race so to speak. Obviously I don’t want FW to have to resort to any of those options. Keep us informed TT!!

    • carpengui

      On Sanatana: not yet… “It was reported yesterday Ervin Santana
      is weighing one year offers from both the Blue Jays ($14MM) and Orioles
      ($13MM plus incentives) with two other clubs also expressing interest.” (MLBTR)

      • Benjamin Chase

        The Twins reportedly offered three years, but Santana told them 4 years or 1 year…

    • Chris Headrick

      Yeah, as Alan said below, not yet: Dionisio Soldevila of ESPN tweeted that news out prematurely.

    • carpengui

      Expanding on the Ervin Santana idea. Here’s the PRO-side:

      1. His first time in the national league
      2. Coming off an excellent year
      3. Only would require a single-year committment.
      4. Costs no prospects
      5. Available this week


      1. Costs a draft pick (#26) this year. However, the Braves picked up #32 for losing Brian McCann, and they could end up getting that #26 pick “back” again in 2015 by giving Santana a Qualifying Offer after the 2014 season.
      2. Costs probably $15 million. They would get much of Medlen’s salary back via insurance, but he was only making $5.8m. Would require upper management to approve, but the cost of NOT doing this could end up being higher.
      3. Over his career, Santana hasn’t been good for back-to-back years; average performance is pretty mediocre.

  • Benjamin Chase

    Another option that wasn’t mentioned was the Braves depth in pitching. Guys like Cody Martin, JR Graham, Gus Schlosser, Aaron Northcraft, and others could fill in until a solution is found or Floyd returns. Heck, perhaps like Hale in 2013, one of them could emerge as a nice cog in the rotation for the season by pitching above his head. Certainly any of those four could pull that off.

    • carpengui

      Well, actually that’s part of the problem… _lack_ of depth. Of those you list, Hale (I did mention him above) is the only one with actual major league experience. So far this Spring, here’s what you’ve seen from the others (and the reasons I didn’t bring them up):

      > Cody Martin: 14.73 ERA. Yes, he’s been that bad.
      > JR Graham: 9.00 ERA… and that because he was pulled early from one start. They’re still being cautious with him due to 2013 shoulder problems.
      > Aaron Northcraft. Had a terrible Arizona Fall League, and has not participated in the major league camp (despite being on the 40-man roster). Needs a serious rebound year; may start in AA.
      > Schlosser. The one actual bright spot: 0.0 ERA in 5 innings. He’s not a ‘stuff’ guy, but he’s also getting the job done. He will probably see more innings this week.

      Oh, and David Hale? 6.75 in 4 innings. In short, the minor league pitching has been pretty awful… some of the major leaguers, too.

      • Benjamin Chase

        Spring training stats are fool’s gold to bet upon, and I’ve not had a chance to watch a spring game yet, so I can’t comment on how they looked in comparison to the stats. I know that a lot of Braves pitchers, young and veteran, have spring stats that would scare you right now, so I’m not sure I’d go just on that. I’d be interested how they’ve looked on the mound and how their pitches are moving. Mike Minor had a 6+ ERA in 2013 spring training with a terrible walk rate, but he pitched tremendously well in the regular season. You would love to see one of the young guys push the question the way Teheran did last spring, however.

  • rick staley

    If Wren can’t fill the rotation for a sustainable period of time from within organization, I would prefer that he goes ahead and makes a trade that keeps a SP at least through the first year of new stadium. No quick fix, make the best move with the long haul as the focus of team’s investment if a trade is decided as the route to go.

    Medlen being healthy real soon is my first choice!!!!

  • carpengui

    Two words: Jeff Samardzija.

    • carpengui

      I may as well expand on that comment.

      Samardzija is the “safe” option, though he is actually a below-average pitcher for his career (4.19 overall, below 3.00 (2.97) only once. The bigger question is cost in terms of prospects. The Cubs have been demanding trade returns worthy of somebody like Jake Peavy … more than that, actually… or Kyle Lohse. Unfortunately, Samardzija just isn’t worth it, though would be under team control through 2015.

      Aside from that, he’s only gonna take home $5.35 million this year.

      • Benjamin Chase

        So, here’s my thing on Samardzija. Last season, he was paired with one particular pitcher as far as comps, and everyone believed those two pitchers were perfectly similar, just two guys waiting for the other shoe to drop to take that step into brilliance in their careers as they both struck out a ton of guys, had tremendous raw stuff, but had issues with control and sometimes leaving pitches up in the zone to be hit hard. The “other guy” took that step last year, posting a 2.90 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and winning the AL Cy Young award. As you’ve likely figured out, the other guy here is Max Scherzer. I’ve loved the idea of acquiring Samardzija before that other shoe drops and he’s too costly in money on the FA market or prospects in trade to get because he’s hit the level of true “ace”.

        • carpengui

          Maybe, possibly, but I’m not nearly convinced on Samardkjajijksjza

          • Benjamin Chase

            Understandable, and you saw a small step from Scherzer in 2012 before his big 2013, but it’s still true that they’re very similar pitchers. Even if Samardzija’s next step is to Scherzer’s 2013, that’s an excellent pitcher.