Jun 19, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Atlanta Braves pitcher Gavin Floyd (32) throws a pitch in the fifth inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Gavin's Elbow - Looking Further Ahead

Our Fred Owens just took a look at the Gavin Floyd injury and the possible short-term implications.  I recommend that to you.  I’m now going to look a bit longer into the future and toward what the Braves might have to think about regarding pitching.

 

Fast Forward to the End of the Season

After a successful 2014 campaign, handshakes are being exchanged as the clubhouse is being cleaned out.  The vague scent of old champagne still hangs in the air, as the ServPro crew doesn’t come until next Tuesday.  But the following pitchers are saying their good-byes – never to return:

In addition, there are a couple of position players that are going away:  Ryan Doumit and Gerald Laird, though I can see that Fredi likes the idea of having 3 catchers on the roster, so Doumit may get an offer for 2015 to join Evan Gattis and Christian Bethancourt.

But the fact is:  in 2015, there are 2 rotation holes to fill.  While the current hole will be ably filled by Alex Wood, I believe that the loss of Floyd could force a change in thinking that the Braves might have been able to ignore until this coming off-season (this despite my opinion that he was maybe 1-2 weeks away from being traded – it’s just unfortunate that Atlanta could not grab a good prospect in return for Floyd… one that would offset the costs of a trade pursuit I’m about to lay out the needs for).

 

Filling the 2015 Rotation

So it’s now December 2014.  Who fills those spots in the rotation to join Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, and Alex Wood?  And who’s healthy?

  • Kris Medlen2nd Tommy John procedure.  Will be 29 in October (and still looks 22).  If he can pitch – and that’s clearly a big “if”, it won’t be until May or June.  2015 is his final arbitration year.  He’s making $5.8 million in 2014, but if he’s actually healthy, he’d be worth that to bring back.  I’d call this a 50-50 shot on whether he’s non-tendered.
  • Brandon Beachy2nd Tommy John procedure.  Will be 28 in September.  Different story here since he’s further back on the arbitration clock (year 2 in 2015; his price was alerady hindered from the first surgery).  Timeline is nonetheless identical.  Braves should take the flier on him.

 

That’s the infirmary report:  but still leaves 2 big holes.  Who are the other candidates?
  • David Hale.  He’s earned a shot, though I honestly don’t know if he sticks, long-term.  I see David as a 5th starter, but little more.  His major league strikeout numbers are surprising, given minor league totals, but whether that’s sustainable over a season (and he’s still never thrown more that 145 innings in any year (that was 2012 at AA).
  • J.R. Graham.  Has to be mentioned, though he’s not breaking out this year at AA – was better (early) in 2013, actually.  Control is good, but he’s not missing a lot of bats:  55 hits in 53 innings, 36K and a 4.61 ERA.
  • Jason Hursh.  Pitching a bit better, though I’d have to repeat my comments from Graham:  81 hits in 78 innings, just 39K and a 3.48 ERA.
  • Aaron Northcraft.  Could be ready for call-up to AAA:  61K in 63 innings, 55 hits and a 2.87.  Much better than 2013 – he’s restoring his own confidence (and that of the organization).
  • Williams Perez.  The surprise at Mississippi:  65 innings, 0.99 WHIP and 1.93 ERA.  Only 49 hits.  Not entirely “dominant” with 48K, but excellent control and results.
  • Both Gus Schlosser (AAA) and Lucas Sims (A+) are worthy of mention, but both are having some struggles – Sims especially this year.  In fact, he’s being outpitched by both Greg Ross and Wes Parsons.  In any case, no AAA pitchers are current candidates.

 

It is very likely that none of these guys are “the pitcher you are looking for” – at least not for early 2015.

 

So… then What?

Ah, that’s the whole point of this write-up:  I would have to think that the Braves should be looking hard at a veteran starter to join the club… now.

Fred quoted Jim Bowden as saying that Frank Wren still wants to add a “#1 starter” of some ilk.   Though Fred and I differ (as you may have read), I concur with Bowden:  that kind of a trade would make everyone on the staff better by improving matchups, delivering consistent outings, and reducing risk.

I will not speculate on a particular trade (with parameters/prospects) right now, but here would be the target guys to pursue:

  • David Price.  Yes, here we go again on that.  Yes, he’s having a down year, though a switch to the NL should make anybody look better – especially in this division.  Did you know he’s still not 29 years old yet?  (will be in August).
  • Jeff Samardzija.  Pitching the best he has… ever (and the Cubs are grinning from ear to ear).  Age 29-1/2.
  • Jason Hammel.  Pitching the best he has… ever (and the Cubs are grinnin…. well, you know).  Nearly 32 years old.

 

The Braves still have Aaron Harang with them, but in the event of a deal, he could be flipped to another club – maybe even in the trade that lands a better starter.

Price comes with a big cost – he will command a lot of cash for this year and more ($17-18m) next year.  The Rays will also want top-end prospects for him. I’d have to believe he’d entertain a long-term extension with Atlanta, but I don’t know if Atlanta would be willing to make that commitment.

Both of the Cubbie pitchers are cheap.  As in dirt cheap.  The trade requirements for them will be high (especially for Sharkdzija, who could easily be the highest cost in terms of prospects this Summer).  Hammel is at least a “rental” guy.  However, my premise in any trade possibility for Atlanta is that they should be looking to fill a big hole for 2015.  The Braves cannot assume that both Medlen and Beachy will be back – at all.  Even if so, the chances of either one pitching well and injury free are not great.  Therefore, the need to have a strong, controllable arm for 2015 is very important for any trade discussions.

 

(update) Lest You Think I’m Nuts…

ESPN’s Jayson Stark just said this during a live Q&A:

[shawn/ATL]  do you see the braves making an even bigger push for price/samardzija?
 
[Jayson Stark  (12:59 PM)]  Sounds like they’re scouting all potential rotation upgrades. Whether they can deal for one is another story. But people around the Cubs and Rays say they’ve been watching both of those guys carefully.

 

I believe a pursuit of Samardzija would be the correct play here:  and I say that knowing the significant cost it would require from the farm.  If you’re thinking “long term”, the benefits should outweigh the costs.  But do this and your champagne scents will happily linger in the clubhouse for some time to come.

What say ye?

 

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