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

Braves Rotation In Disarray – Medlen Injured Beachy Lacks Velocity


Kris Medlen left yesterday’s game in the fourth inning with what the Braves described as a forearm strain. Brandon Beachy left today in the second inning with a bicep issue. Mike Minor has yet top make a spring training start. The rotation Frank Wren and the Braves were counting on is rapidly unraveling. Now what?

Rotation  Detrioration

Last year the Dodgers entered spring training with so many pitchers they ended up literally giving them away. A few weeks later they were trying desperately to find enough to have five guys in their rotation. This year it seems it’s the Braves turn to scuffle. Yesterday morning things looked a lot different.

Medlen started yesterday and through two innings was on a roll. His change was superb as usual but his curve was even more so making major league hitters knees buckle and sending them to the dugout shaking their head. In the third inning his control seemed to wander a bit and I saw him trying to figure out why the ball didn’t go where it was supposed to on a couple of pitches but he got out of the inning okay. Then with two out in the fourth inning  Medlen delivered a pitch, screamed something unintelligible and headed straight to the clubhouse doing that little hopping dance guys do when something hurts really badly.  The edited replay below shows that he had grabbed and rubbed his elbow on the pitch prior to the one when he left the game.

The official word on Medlen is that he has a forearm strain it didn’t look like the he was rubbing his forearm to me. He had an MRI this afternoon and as of now I haven’t heard anything official and Mark Bowman  suggests they may not get results today.

George Kurtz (Rotoexperts.com) says he knows an the answer isn’t good.

The Plot Thickens and the Rotation Thins

Today Beachy got the start against the Phillies and was scheduled to go four innings. He left after two because of tightness in his bicep.

That he’s been fighting this bicep tenderness and hasn’t yet worked through it may not bother Beachy who says an MRI isn’t necessary but it has to be worrying for the Braves who decided this winter that there weren’t any reasonable deals offered to them through trade or on the free agent market.

When Pitching Depth Is Not Pitching Depth

We’ve all heard that the Braves have pitching depth; they do and they don’t.  They do have a few young arms who could spot start; that spot is at the back end of the rotation not the top. Gavin Floyd was signed to be a back of the rotation starter as well. In any event he’s two months away at best.  So yes we have depth but not the right kind of depth; no one has that.

As Alan wrote yesterday, with the top two (now three) arms most likely unavailable on opening day the rotation like this: Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Freddy Garcia and David HaleMike Minor will be delayed at least two weeks but the Braves won’t need a fifth starter for at least that long. Fredi Gonzalez expressed his gratitude that the Braves had a veteran to fall back on.

While Garcia is a good stop gap he’s not a long term option as a full time starter, that’s why the Braves signed Gavin Floyd.  But omitting Garcia from the starters. the remainder of the rotation has a total of 51 major league starts and 30 of those belong to Teheran. That is not a recipe for success. Past history suggests that the Braves won’t run out and make a panic signing unless they know something long term is highly likely. If Geirge Kurtz is correct  it would explain the Braves revisiting the free agent market and to check on Ervin Santana.

Santana reportedly has offers of about $14M and would like to be in camp now. He isn’t likely to wait and see what the Braves are going to do so the Braves would probably have to beat offer pretty quickly .While I believe the Braves have payroll room for emergency additions I suspect that spending it on someone as inconsistent as Santana has been in his career isn’t their favorite option. They might be forced to in the end but in the meantime they’ll also revisit the trade market.

In case you’re wondering, other unsigned free agents include Jair Jurrjens, Jeff Karstens, Jeff Niemann, Jason Marquis, Brett Myers and Clayton Richard. Of these only two are worth discussing

Niemann was the fourth round pick of the Rays  back in 2004. While in the Rays rotation from 2008 through 2011 he was essentially a 4.00 ERA pitcher  worth about 175 innings and 1 fWAR. In the NL he would likely pitch to about a 3.70 ERA and at the back of the rotation that would be okay. The problem is the shoulder and in his case Niemann had “…labrum and rotator cuff abnormalities. . .” and chose surgery. Soft tissue shoulder injuries are the worst because you never know exactly how they will heal and for that reason I might give him a minor league deal but nothing more. Richard’s shoulder is a different situation.

Richard drafted by the White Sox in the eighth round of the 2005 draft and became the key part of the trade that sent Jake Peavy to the Sox in 2009.In 2010 he threw 201 2/3 innings for the Padres pitching to a 3.75 ERA and a 1.2 fWAR. In 2011 he was on course for a similar season but in July had to have season ending surgery on his left shoulder; a debridement procedure to clean and smooth the glenoid labrum, biceps tendon and rotator cuff.  He returned in 2012 to throw another 218 2/3 innings with a 3.99 ERA. His 2012 was marked by a return of shoulder issues but this time it wasn’t a soft tissue injury. In July of last year he had surgery to shave part of his clavicle and allow his acromioclavicular(AC)  joint — at the junction of the shoulder and clavicle – allowing it to move more freely. Having had both surgeries I can tell you the last one is easier to recover from that the first. If Richard is once again able to move the shoulder freely he should have less of an issue returning that Niemann and as a lefty I’d certainly consider giving him a shot. While he doesn’t throw as hard as Gavin Floyd once did the he’s comparable to him in many ways and his surgery was a lot less complex than Floyd’s. Besides, having a 200 inning lefty in the system can’t be a bad thing. He is of course another back of the rotation arm but that may be what we end up with.

Trades

We’ve looked at the trade market in depth many times over the past few months and nothing much has changed. The best available and doable option in my view remains Jeff Samardzija.  The Cubs have been trying to extend him but aren’t willing to meet his price as of yet so he is available and has two years of control. They would want multiple high level prospects for him, something the Braves and their GM have resisted doing so far but might well reconsider now.

The newest name rumored to be on the block is Rick Porcello. Porcello isn’t what the Braves would like to have. He’s been a league average arm for the Tigers and has little to offer other than health and team control.

Buster Olney spoke with one evaluator (link requires Insider subscription) show said “I’d say in terms of acquisition cost,” he said, “Atlanta could surf the back end of other teams rosters, looking particularly closely at out-of-options guys like Zach Britton, Vance Worley, Samuel Deduno — maybe a Franklin Morales if the price is right or a Cesar Ramos if he continues to start and the Rays don’t have a spot for him.

Other names you might hear are Josh Beckett if the Dodgers want to dump him and his contractor even our old friend Paul Maholm. I doubt Maholm as an option as he wasn’t good for much of last year and the Braves let him walk with a thank you and a wave bye-bye. Josh Beckett could be interesting.

Beckett will be pitching a 34 years old this season and it’s unrealistic to expect the same guy we saw when he was with the Marlins. He is however healthy this year for the first time since 2009 following thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, and  he’s had a pretty good spring. His velocity is still around 92-94 and his curve has been sharp. He’s in the final year of his contract ($15.75M) so there’s no long term commitment and a return to the NL East could make him even better. The Dodgers have another log jam at the back of their rotation and might be willing to let him go for taking his money and a minor prospect or two.

That’s A Wrap

. . .for now anyway, this is a rapidly developing situation and things change quickly. I’ve rewritten the Medlen portion of this piece three times in the last hour. What Frank Wren and John Schuerholz will come up with is hard to predict. We don’t have much insight into the money really available in an emergency or what other teams might do for the right price. Here are a few things they won’t do – in my opinion anyway. No trade for David Price. The Rays will keep him now that he’s signed and try to win the AL East. I doubt  Santana signs either. He has good offers already that the Braves are unlikely to beat. They will not be held to ransom for a guy like him.

I doubt the Red Sox trade either Peavy or Lackey, it’s too close to the start of the season and they have concerns over a couple of their starters too. A trade is however the more likely outcome with signing one of the already recovered shoulder injury guys a distant option. The one thing we’ve seen over the years is that the Braves never panic. I think now that the season could well be lost in the first two months – we saw what happened the the Nationals last year – waiting on Floyd to return and hoping a rookie steps forward they might be willing to make a deal with the Cubs for Samardzija. He makes the most sense in terms of cost and control and they have the opportunity to extend him so he isn’t lost in two years. He features the one thing we don’t have big league ready yet; a power arm from the right side who strikes out 200 a year and throws 200 innings. I think he’s right guy for the job provided the Cubs are willing to be realistic in their demands. That’s my take what’s yours?

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