Less than 24 hours after learning that intended Opening Day starter Kris Medlen would need a second Tommy John surgery, the Atlanta Braves went out and signed free agent starter Ervin Santana to a one-year contract.
The deal came not a moment too soon.
The Braves – once considered one of the early favorites to win the National League pennant – have undergone a Spring mired with pitching injuries. Medlen, the club’s top starter, will likely miss all of 2014. Brandon Beachy is battling through tightness in his throwing shoulder and bicep. And Mike Minor is also suffering shoulder soreness.
Three-fifths of the Atlanta rotation was already reeling. The rest of the starting staff is made up of an aging veteran in Freddy Garcia (who knows what he has left in the tank) and a sophomore with tons of talent but just a tad experience in Julio Teheran (who knows if he can match his rookie production in this his second season in the Bigs).
Santana is the perfect bandaid for what has been ailing the Braves. The right hander is durable, reliable, and primed for a top-of-the-rotation role. He had a 3.24 ERA with 161 strikeouts in 211 innings for the Royals in 2013. And now he will be pitching in the National League for the first time in his career. Not to mention he will get to pitch half of his games in hitter-friendly Turner Field.
Santana has the experience and talent to occupy the ace slot in the rotation. He fills the vacuum that would be created with Medlen’s absence while allowing Garcia and Teheran remain in the middle-order roles they had been prepping for all offseason. Alex Wood – projected to start the season in the bullpen – will likely anchor the back end of the rotation. He was always pegged as a starter, but now will have an opportunity to showcase his potential a little earlier than expected.
Things look much less bleak in Atlanta today than they did 24 hours ago, when reports of Medlen’s MRI results first surfaced.
I’ve maintained that Santana was the best starter on the free agent market not named Masahiro Tanaka. If he lives up to that billing, the Braves should still be among the class of the