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Atlanta Braves Blog

The Atlanta Braves blog by David O'Brien, baseball writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Braves won't make panic move to replace Medlen, but....

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- While the Braves await a call from the doctor regarding Kris Medlen’s elbow, and plenty of their fans hit the refresh button on their computers with both a sense of hope but also dread over the news that could come at any time, let us spend a few minutes contemplating what could go down if Medlen’s injury is as serious as feared.

Wait, I guess I should make sure everyone is up to speed: If you were away from civilization or at least away from the Internet or newspapers for the past 24 hours, Medlen let Sunday’s game against the Mets in the fourth inning with what was initially diagnosed as a right forearm strain, but which looked worse and could possibly be another elbow injury. He had Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow in 2010.

Medlen is being examined by a Braves specialist today and getting an MRI back in Orlando, while the team is here playing the Phillies. We haven’t been told when to expect an update on his condition. And now Brandon Beachy is questionable again after leaving today's game against the Phillies with biceps tightness after two innings.

And I'm told the Braves are getting serious about a possible run at Ervin Santana. More on that in a moment.

So anyway, do you realize there is a real chance the Braves could begin the season with a five-man rotation that made a total of 51 major league starts in 2013, with 30 of those starts made by Julio Teheran? It could happen, given that Mike Minor still hasn’t faced hitters yet this spring and might start the season on the 15-day DL while he continues to catch up with the other starters.

(Minor couldn’t work out in January after having urinary tract surgery, then was shut down for a week after having shoulder soreness in the first week of camp when he tried to do a little too much, too soon. He’s progressing quickly, but still is at the throwing-bullpens stage, with live batting practice next on the schedule before he pitches in a game.)

If Medlen, the pitcher with the second-best major league ERA in 250 or more innings pitched since the 2012 All-Star break (behind some guy named Kershaw), is lost for the season or a significant portion of it, the Braves could open the season with a rotation that includes: Teheran; Brandon Beachy (five starts last season coming off Tommy John surgery before being shut down again to have a bone chip removed); 37-year-old Freddy Garcia (six major league games including three starts last season); Alex Wood (11 starts as a rookie); and rookie David Hale (two starts in a September callup).

But before everyone panics and insists the Braves simply must make a trade for a proven starter, please consider that A. there are none without serious flaws or substantial question marks available this close to Opening Day (no, the Rays aren’t trading David Price three weeks before Opening Day); B. the Braves’ payroll is already close to what’s believed to be their self-imposed $100 million limit, and if they are going to go over that it would likely be for a midseason trade after they see what they have and what might be needed to get them over the hump or be the difference-maker to turn a good season into a potentially great one.

About Santana: Initially I didn't think there was anything to the idea of the Braves pursuing him, but now with Beachy having more issues (he left today's start against the Phillies after two innings due to biceps tightness), I'm hearing from a person connected to the  Royals that the Braves are making a run at the free agent. How serious that is, I don't know yet.

Realistically, with Santana supposedly asking for at least $14 million in a one-year offer and with the Twins reportedly having a three-year offer of about $33 million on the table for Santana, I couldn't see the Braves going $10 million over their budget to bring in a guy who’s been inconsistent in recent years and has had some elbow concerns of his own. But that was before Beachy left today's game. Now, I think the Braves feel like they need to see if it's possible to get a proven starter (and one who had a 3.24 ERA and 161 strikeouts in 211 innings last season for the Royals.

The Braves are not likely to go long-term deal with a guy like Santana, when they have two or three of their own top pitching prospects perhaps only a year or two away from being in the majors. But if he'd bite on a one-year deal in hopes of setting himself up for a big contract next winter, it might be something that benefits both parties at this point.

Among the limited number of trade-possibility pitchers who might be out of options and/or on teams that have a surplus of starters, the names Josh Beckett and Paul Maholm are most prominent, and neither of those two veterans competing for one spot in the Dodgers rotation does anything for me or for those I’ve mentioned their names to in the Braves organization.

The Braves had Maholm last year and didn’t try to re-sign him after an injury-plagued season that went south on the lefty early on. Beckett hasn’t been effective in years and isn’t worth the headache and his salary.

There are others, none of whom is much worth talking about, in terms of giving up anything of real value or expecting to fill a rotation spot any better than in-house options the Braves already have.

“You feel like you have enough, and the next thing you know something happens and it screws up everything," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said before Monday's game, describing how the Braves talked last winter of having five of their own guys in the opening-day rotation. “Medlen was the oldest of our homegrown guys. We were counting on five homegrown starters this winter. You had Medlen, Minor, Beachy, Teheran and Wood, alright?"


"Medlen you don’t know about. Mikey is coming along but he might be a little bit later. And Beachy is coming out of Tommy John from last year. That quickly we went from five homegrown starters to, we’re going to have to piece it together a little bit.”

That was before the latest Beachy development Monday. Here’s what I had expected would happen if Medlen was out: The Braves would go with what they have, expecting Minor to be in the rotation by mid-April. So with Minor back, it’d be Teheran, Minor, Beachy, Alex Wood and Freddy Garcia, with Gavin Floyd taking over one of those spots in late May.

By mid- to late June, the Braves would know whether they really need to add another starter, and by then there should be some difference-maker pitchers available. A pitcher that might cost $15 million in salary if they had gotten him this winter with one year left on his contract, might only cost about $8 million if the Braves trade for him before the July trade deadline. The Braves can afford that, they have the means to go over budget and make that happen, if it’s needed.

Now, they might not have a choice but to spend the full-ticket price on that type of pitcher, if they want to sign the one such pitcher available as a free agent right now, Santana.

What they wouldn't do, I was and still am fairly confident of, is give up their top young prospects now in a panic move to replace Medlen, if Medlen must be replaced. The Braves have more major league starting-pitch depth than many teams, and a better bullpen than most. They are probably going to need to need both of those components to get through this in playoff contention, but that’s certainly doable.

“Freddy Garcia, we added him for some depth," Gonzalez said. "Maybe see what happens with some  (injuries). I think he’s in a better position than just depth right now. Thank God we signed Freddy Garcia this winter.”

• Here's a great tune from Son Volt, and click here for a live video of them doing the song on Austin City Limits.

“CATCHING ON” by Son Volt (J. Farrar)

Can't find a reason

Can't find a way

Guess it's not you and me

Only dogs have their day

Another case of words that melt

It's not a question of right

Nightmares in broad daylight

Season crash, season burn

You survive another turn

And now I'm reaching out, it's true

When you don't see me, I'm catching on to you

You don't see me

I'm catching on to you

Took a break to get that far

Like the sound from a hundred-dollar guitar

Bought from an old catalogue

Yesterday's dust and heartache

As the pieces fall like candy when you're young

Medicine when you're old

There's no reason or rhyme

Sidestepping around

On an elevator climb

When you don't see me, I'm catching on to you

You don't see me, I'm catching on to you

Another jail, another burned-out inside

Skeleton love left to die

Take whatever lies ahead

The good with the bad, and leave the rest

When you don't see me, I'm catching on to you

You don't see me

I'm catching on to you

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About the Author

David O'Brien has covered the Atlanta Braves for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution since 2002.