Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, each trying to come back from a second Tommy John surgery, will find out by 11:59 p.m. Tuesday whether their comebacks are likely to continue with the Braves, the only major league organization either has known.
Tuesday is the deadline for teams to offer contracts to their unsigned players. Since Jonny Venters and Ramiro Pena were already dropped from the roster when designated for assignment last month – Venters was later released; Pena can ask to be a free agent rather than accept a minor league assignment -- Medlen and Beachhy are the only remaining arbitration-eligible Braves who appear to be question marks as the deadline approaches.
(Other arb-eligible Braves and their projected salaries for 2015: Mike Minor, $5.1 million; relievers James Russell, $2.4 million, and David Carpenter, $1.1 million).
Medlen and Beachy each blew out his pitching elbow on consecutive days in March at spring training and missed the entire season recovering from “TJ” surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament. Medlen was paid $5.8 million during 2014 in what was his second season of arbitration eligibility; Beachy got $1.45 million in his first arbitration season.
Both would be expected to get about the same salary in 2015 through the arbitration process; that’s just how the system works. And the Collective Bargaining Agreement stipulates that teams can’t offer such players under team control a salary of less than 80 percent of the previous year.
Thus, unless the Braves were to work out an agreement with either pitcher to release him and sign him as a free agent, they wouldn’t be able to offer Medlen less then $4.64 million or Beachy less than $1.16 million for 2015. And, chances are each would be awarded the salary he made last season (or slightly more) if the Braves made those 80-percent offers and either case went to arb hearings.
Anyone, all that is complicating a decision that essentially comes down to whether the Braves believe either or both of them is going to join the relatively small number of starting pitchers who’ve come back to pitch at a high level after a second Tommy John surgery, and how soon they might do it next season.
Neither has reported any setbacks in recovery, and it’s believed that either could be ready well before the All-Star break and perhaps as soon as May, barring any complicatations. That would be around 14 months post-surgery, which seems typical or slightly faster than most other pitchers following their second TJ procedure (although some have taken significantly longer).
“Feeling great,” Beachy said Monday of his ongoing rehab. The 28-year-old also got married a couple of weeks ago.
Medlen, who turned 29 in October, said Monday that he was “on track and doing great” and that he was “doing my part and kicking this second TJ’s ass.”
Both said they had no information regarding the contract situation leading up to Tuesday’s deadline. Braves president of baseball operations John Hart has said this offseason only that the Braves were hopeful and would like to have both pitchers back – he lauded each of them for both their pitching talent and their clubhouse presence – but that he didn’t know if the team would be able to work out deals given the complexity of their situations coming back from second TJ surgeries.
Despite having the much higher salary, Medlen seems the more likely to get an offer from the Braves because of a few factors including his more extensive track record, the type of pitcher that he is – never a power pitcher, he relies on location and movement – and the fact that Beachy has been able to pitch in only 18 games over the past three seasons and had three surgical procedures in a 21-month span including his second TJ surgery in March.
Both right-handers have been top-half-of-the-rotation starters for various periods, although Medlen is the only one who’s done it for an entire healthy season. Medlen was the the only pitcher to win three National League Pitcher of the Month awards during the period from August 2012, after he moved from the bullpen to the starting rotation, through September 2013.
Medlen would be eligible for free agency after the 2015 season, and the Braves have at least discussed a possible two-year contract that would buy out one of his free-agent seasons and give them more assurance of getting good production out of him once he’s completed his rehab.
Medlen is 34-20 with a 2.95 ERA in 152 career games, including 30-13 with a 2.96 ERA in 61 starts. He was 25-13 with a 2.47 ERA in 82 games during the 2012-2013 seasons, including 24-11 with a 2.36 ERA in 43 starts after moving to the rotation at the end of July 2012.
After then-Braves veteran Tim Hudson, his mentor and close friend, suffered a season-ending broken ankle on July 24, 2013, Medlen picked up plenty of the slack in Hudson’s absence by going 9-1 with a 2.04 ERA in 11 starts during the remainder of the season.
Beachy, a great find by the Braves when they signed the former undrafted pitcher out of an independent league, is 14-11 with a 3.23 ERA in 46 career starts and has 275 strikeouts in 267 2/3 innings. He was 7-3 with a 3.68 ERA in 25 starts in 2011, then ranked at or near the top among major league leaders in ERA (2.00) and opponents’ average (.171) through 13 starts in 2012 before tearing his UCL and having his first Tommy John surgery.
There were setbacks in his recovery from that surgery, and Beachy lasted five starts in 2013 before needing a season-ending arthroscopic procedure on the elbow. Midway through spring training in 2014, he blew out the elbow again and had his second TJ surgery.
The Braves lost free agents Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang – and more than 400 innings combined between those two -- from their starting rotation and filled one spot by acquiring Shelby Miller from the Cardinals in last month’s trade for Jason Heyward. Miller joins incumbents Julio Teheran and lefties Alex Wood and Minor.
There’s one spot left and the Braves would like to fill it with Jon Lester. But Hart has been candid about Lester being the right guy at probably the wrong time for the Braves, meaning they’d love to have the former Boston ace be the bell cow of their young rotation, but probably can’t afford to out-bid the likes of the Cubs, Red Sox and Giants for his services. (Perhaps unless Lester were to take significantly less from the Braves in order to pitch in his adopted hometown; he and his wife and kids have lived in Peachtree City for years and bought a home earlier this year about 10-15 minutes from the site of the new Braves ballpark that will open in 2017.)
So with Lester unlikely to fill that last opening, and with the Braves preferring to use David Hale in a relief role, the team will probably sign or trade for another starter with lesser credentials and a lesser salary than Lester. But if and when they gete one they will still need depth, and right now Hale would be their only other proven starter.
Enter Medlen or Beachy. The cost, particularly for Medlen, might be higher than the Braves want to pay for a pitcher who might not be ready until May or June and even then is not going to be a sure thing by any means. But given the price of pitching, either or both might be worth taking a gamble on.
The risk is less with Beachy, given his salary. While the potential reward is greater with Medlen, considering the factors listed above.
By Tuesday night, each will know where they stand with the Braves.
• Trade talk: The Braves continue to receive considerable trade interest in Justin Upton, although it’s unclear if Seattle is still in that group after signing free agent Nelson Cruz on Monday. From what I heard last week, the Mariners hoped to add a couple of right-handed power bats, and since they didn’t have to use any of their prospects to get Cruz, they could still be in the trade market for Upton. The Mariners are no longer on his four-team no-trade list as they were two years ago, when Upton was still with Arizona and nixed a trade to Seattle that would have sent prized pitching prospect Taijuan Walker to the Dbacks. The Mariners still have Walker and James Paxton, among other pitching prospects, to offer in a deal if they really want J-Up or Evan Gattis.
Hart says the Braves would be fine with keeping J-Up for 2015 rather than trading him, since they could expect a big season from him in his free-agent walk year and a compensatory draft pick if they were to lose him next winter. The Braves also remain reluctant to trade Gattis and would presumably demand a huge return, given his right-handed power – the same commodity that makes J-Up so valuable in today’s market – coupled by the fact that Gattis is under contractual control for four more seasons.
• I'll close with this tune from one of the finest albums of the year, by the terrific band Spoon. Everything they do shines.
"INSIDE OUT" by Spoon
Time's gone inside out
Time gets distorted with
This intense gravity
I don't got time for holy rollers
Though they may wash my feet
And I won't be their soldier
There's intense gravity in you
(There's intense gravity in you)
I'm just your satellite
(I'm just your satellite)
Ooh, and I know that time's gone inside out
And now it's only like I told you
Mmm, though they may wash my feet
They do not make me complete
Break out of character for me
Time keeps on going when
We got nothing else to give
We got nothing else to give
Ooh, cause our time's gone inside out
I don't make time for holy rollers
Mmm, there's only you I need
They do not make me complete