Guerry Clegg commentary: Braves make bold move in signing Ervin Santana

sports@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 12, 2014 

There's no way to put a positive spin on the probability of losing Kris Medlen for the season and the possibility for his career.

Beyond being one of the most effective starting pitchers in baseball over the past two seasons, Medlen has immeasurable qualities that anyone would want to have on their team. Heart, toughness, character, experience -- and just enough of a goofy personality that endears him to everyone.

With Tim Hudson leaving in the offseason to sign with the San Francisco Giants, Medlen was going to be the leader of the Atlanta Braves' starting rotation. His injury is a huge loss.

That said …

The Braves turned catastrophe into opportunity. By disregarding budgetary constraints and signing Ervin Santana to a one-year contract Wednesday, the Braves served notice within the clubhouse and to the fans that winning now is of utmost importance.

"We have a first-class organization," catcher Gerald Laird told reporters Wednesday. "They went out and got it done for us."

What will the ownership folks at Liberty Media say when they find out the Braves have blown the budget? Who cares? What are they going to do, fire someone?

Bobby Cremins, in building Georgia Tech basketball into a national power, was notorious for blowing his recruiting budget. Cremins later said, "I'd rather get fired for going over budget than get fired for losing."

Hours after seeing an emotional Medlen walk off the mound with pain in his right elbow, Braves general manager Frank Wren was planning for the worst and called Santana's agent, Jay Alou. Seeing Brandon Beachy, also coming back from Tommy John surgery, exit early the next day merely ramped up the urgency to sign Santana before someone else could.

Statistically, it's nearly a wash. Last year, Medlen had the better earned run average, 3.11 to 3.24. He also had a better record, 15-12 to 9-10, but that's partly a function of playing for a team that won 96 games rather than 86, and had the best bullpen in baseball to secure his leads.

But Santana had the edge in innings pitched, 211 to 197. He also had a better WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched), 1.14 to 1.22. Like Medlen, Santana will give the Braves a chance to win just about every time he takes the mound. If they are able to make the playoffs, the Braves could be just as confident with Santana as with Medlen.

Before losing Medlen, the Braves had one of the better starting rotations in baseball. After signing Santana, they still do. Granted, they couldn't afford to lose Beachy and Mike Minor, who has had shoulder stiffness. But no team could withstand losing three of their top four starters.

Assuming Minor will be fine by mid-April, their top three starters -- Julio Teheran, Santana and Minor -- are more than capable. Even if Beachy isn't as dominant as he was becoming before his elbow injury, the Braves still have plenty of candidates for the fourth and fifth spots. Rookies Alex Wood and David Hale and veteran Freddy Garcia were effective last year. Gavin Floyd, a free-agent signee in the offseason, should be ready to contribute by mid-May.

So that's five viable candidates for two spots in the rotation. Again, the fourth and fifth starters aren't asked to be Glavine and Maddux. They are just asked to deliver a lead to the bullpen for the last three innings. And the Braves' bullpen remains among the best in baseball.

Barring … well, you know. Don't want to jinx them.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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