It's a good thing for the Atlanta Braves that right-hander Ervin Santana had such a hard time in free agency this winter. If he hadn't still been on the market nearly four weeks into spring training, who knows what the Braves would have done, or could have done, to patch the holes in their starting rotation?
The Braves signed Santana on Wednesday morning to a one-year deal for $14.1 million. Santana, who had previously fired his agent, had been mulling similar offers from the Orioles and Blue Jays after abandoning hopes to sign a multiyear deal for at least $100 million when the free-agency period began. By remaining patient enough, Santana has landed in the perfect spot for him — at least for 2014.
As quoted by reporter David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Braves general manager Frank Wren said it was "an incredible decision" by team execs to make such a costly decision.
Atlanta went over its budget and will have to surrender the 26th pick overall in June to Santana's previous team, the Kansas City Royals. But the Braves brass didn't have much of a choice after three-fifths of the team's starting rotation developed injury problems this spring. The most serious of those injuries belonged to right-hander Kris Medlen, who has sustained damage to his right elbow and might need Tommy John surgery again. Brandon Beachy is having setbacks after recovering from Tommy John, and Mike Minor has been slowed by shoulder soreness after recovering from urinary tract surgery.
The Braves were facing the season with a rotation that had a 1-2 punch of Julio Teheran (who has looked fantastic this spring) and veteran Freddy Garcia. The Braves also have youngster Alex Wood, whom a lot of scouts like, but has almost no experience. It's not the kind of pitching befitting of a team expected to challenge for a playoff spot after winning the NL East in a cakewalk a season ago.
But having Santana gives them a fighting chance. He had a 3.24 ERA with 161 strikeouts in 211 innings for the Royals in 2013. Although he was vulnerable to the gopher ball, that weakness should be muted in the National League, pitching roughly half of his games at pitcher-friendly Turner Field. Santana should end up being in good position to sign a more agreeable long-term deal — possibly with the Braves, but maybe not — after the season.
And the Braves remain in good position to challenge for the World Series.
Santana had been part of a group of free agents who had yet to sign because they cost the signing team a draft pick in addition to a salary. Slugger Kendrys Morales and shortstop Stephen Drew are the only ones still left on the market, but Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz also struggled to find happiness in free agency earlier this offseason. Similar events played out a season ago. There's been talk of revising the system, but it won't happen until the next collective bargaining agreement is up in 2016.
Because the regular season is so close — less than three weeks away — Santana might not be ready for opening day, reports Mark Bowman of MLB.com. Perhaps mid-April — which means he'll miss one or two turns in the rotation.
Here's O'Brien's expanded story on the signing.
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