LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Less than 24 hours after Kris Medlen exited Sunday's start with what appears to be a season-ending elbow injury, it became apparent the Braves were at least evaluating the possibility of signing free agent Ervin Santana.
While Santana appeared to be a welcome addition to Atlanta's injury-depleted starting rotation, there was reason to wonder if the Braves would be willing to sacrifice a Draft pick and exceed their budget enough to financially compete with the offers the veteran right-hander had reportedly received from the Blue Jays, Orioles and Twins.
All of those questions were answered in an authoritative manner on Wednesday, when the Braves replenished their rotation by signing Santana to a one-year, $14.1 million contract.
Unfortunately for Santana, the Braves did not feel the need to pursue him until seeing elbow ailments force Medlen and Brandon Beachy to make early exits from the exhibition season starts they made on Sunday and Monday, respectively.
While Medlen is preparing for the likelihood he will need to undergo Tommy John surgery, Beachy remains hopeful that he will eventually distance himself from the frustration that has followed him since he first attempted to return from this same surgical procedure in June.
Santana has gone 70-60 with a 3.94 ERA in the 183 starts he has made dating back to the 2008 season, when he gained his only All-Star selection and finished sixth in balloting for the American League Cy Young Award. The 31-year-old right-hander struggled in 2012, posting a 5.16 ERA in the 30 starts he made during what was his eighth and final season with the Angels.
Santana turned things around last year, as he went 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA in 32 starts with the Royals. Still, his attraction on the free-agent market was marred by the fact that the signing club would have to forfeit its first-round selection in the First-Year Player Draft this June because Kansas City had given the veteran pitcher a one-year, $14.1 qualifying offer in November.
Recognizing that they will be without Medlen this year and staring at the possibility that Beachy is dealing with something more than normal soreness, the Braves were willing to sacrifice their first-round selection (26th overall) to sign Santana. The blow is somewhat softened by the fact that the Braves were compensated with the 32nd overall selection when Brian McCann exited via free agency to sign with the Yankees.
Santana has been working out on his own, throwing regular bullpen sessions over the past few weeks. But instead of rushing Santana to be ready for the start of the regular season, the Braves are planning to add him to their rotation by mid-April.
If this schedule holds true, Santana could be joining the rotation around the same time as Mike Minor, who was slowed during the early days of Spring Training with left shoulder discomfort.
The Braves are planning to begin the regular season with Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Freddy Garcia and David Hale in their starting rotation. Santana and Minor could be ready when the club has to add a fifth starter by April 12. A little more than two weeks later, Gavin Floyd, who is attempting to return from Tommy John surgery, could be ready to join that quintet.
Santana completed a bullpen session at Champion Stadium on Wednesday morning and could throw a live batting-practice session later this week. If all goes well, he could make his first start of the Grapefruit League season next week.
As he drove from Port St. Lucie back to the Disney area after watching Medlen walk off the mound during Sunday's start against the Mets, Wren reached out to Santana's agent, Jay Alou, with the understanding that the veteran pitcher was in the process of being aggressively courted by the Blue Jays, Orioles and Twins.
A day after Medlen's injury, Wren's rotation plans were further complicated when Beachy made an early exit from his two-inning stint against the Phillies because of tightness in his right elbow and biceps muscle. But even before that occurred, the Braves were already making plans to sign Santana.
As they drove to Clearwater for Monday's game against the Phils, Wren was talking to Alou while Braves president John Schuerholz was on the phone with team chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk, because there was a definite need to exceed the plans to keep payroll at around $100 million.
McGuirk's willingness to do so obviously strengthened the rotation. But at the same time, he sent a message to Atlanta's players and fans that the club is committed in its attempt to defend its NL East title.
----- Source: MLB.com