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Atlanta Braves Rumors
Here are today’s minor moves from around the league…
- Outfielder Trent Oeltjen, who had been loaned to los Toros de Tijuana of the Mexican League, has been returned to the Diamondbacks‘ Triple-A affiliate in Reno, according to the Pacific Coast League transactions page. Oeltjen, 31, hit just .139/.273/.250 with a homer in his time with Tijuana, is a career .295/.359/.481 hitter in 735 Triple-A games. He’s seen big league time with the D’Backs and Dodgers but hasn’t been in the Majors since 2011.
- The Braves have signed righty Clay Schrader to a minor league deal, per their official transactions page. The 23-year-old was Baltimore’s 10th-round pick in the 2010 draft and has a 2.62 ERA with 11.5 K/9 and 6.5 BB/9 in 172 innings of relief in the minors. Schrader, who will turn 24 in four days, reached Double-A in 2012 as a 22-year-old and has 79 innings at that level — the furthest he’s ascended in his minor league career to date.
In an outstanding profile of Red Sox principal owner John Henry, Joshua Green of Bloomberg Businessweek writes that Henry “captures baseball’s current era” with his financial savvy and mathematical orientation. The full piece comes highly recommended, but a few particularly salient points are worth mention here. According to Henry, Boston’s disastrous 2012 season taught the organization “a lesson in ever-growing, long-term contracts with free agents.” An important element of the team’s turnaround, says Green, was Henry’s “ability to ignore sentiment” in making personnel decisions. Though Henry says “it’s gotten harder to spend money intelligently,” Green paints a picture of a man determined to do just that, precisely because of the challenge. In the immediate term, of course, the question is at what price the Sox deem staff ace Jon Lester a worthwhile investment. (The team has reportedly offered four years and $70MM.)
- Of course, the major topic of conversation last night (and this morning) was the ejection of Yankees starter Michael Pineda for taking the hill with a generous application of pine tar on his neck. Pineda will almost certainly earn a suspension and miss at least one start; last year, Rays reliever Joel Peralta lost 8 games after he was caught with the substance. Of course, virtually every player, manager, front office official, and journalist to have commented on the incident has noted that it is widely accepted that pitchers utilize various kinds of grip-enhancing agents. As ESPN.com’s Buster Olney writes (Insider link), it is increasingly ridiculous to maintain a rule that is so rarely enforced and widely disregarded. His recommendation of a pre-approved substance (or, presumably, substances) that pitchers can utilize seems like a good starting point for considering a rule change; it makes little sense, in my view, to implicitly permit “cheating” so long as the pitcher is not “too obvious.”
- The Phillies bullpen — particularly, its grouping of right-handed set-up men — have been an unmitigated disaster thus far. Indeed, Philadelphia relievers currently sport a league-worst 5.64 ERA. As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes, the club has already demoted three of its righties — B.J. Rosenberg, Brad Lincoln, and Justin De Fratus — and will now rely on a series of questionable arms (for different reasons) in Mike Adams, Jeff Manship, and Shawn Camp. Last August, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said that the pen would be an area of focus in the coming offseason, but the team did not spend there in free agency.
- Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons has already established himself as a nearly incomparable defensive shortstop, writes Howard Megdal of Sports On Earth. Club manager Fredi Gonzalez said that it was premature to put his young, newly-extended whiz alongside The Wizard: the legendary Ozzie Smith maintained his defensive prowess for 19 seasons. But, as Megdal explains, Simmons’ early success puts him on that kind of trajectory, and better. With a seemingly greater offensive (and, possibly, defensive) ceiling than the Hall-of-Famer Smith, Simmons has both legitimate upside and a high floor.
- While Atlanta obviously did well to identify starter Aaron Harang, who is off to an incredible start to the season for the Braves after being squeezed out of the Indians’ rotation mix, Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus explains that there are no analytical or scouting reasons to believe that Harang has re-invented himself at this late stage of his career. Ultimately, Harang has benefited from a low BABIP, high strand rate, and unsustainable level of success with runners in scoring position. Though his contributions to date should not be underestimated, says Lindbergh, there remains a good chance that the Braves will end up replacing Harang in the rotation before the season is out.
Greene, 30, was playing at Triple-A for the Atlanta organization. He has seen action at the MLB level in each of the last five seasons, though never more than the 116 games he appeared in over the 2012 campaign. For his career, Greene has a .224.289/.356 triple-slash in 746 plate appearances. He has appeared mostly at short and second, but has seen time at every other position on the diamond except the battery.
The Braves were the surprise winners of the Ervin Santana sweepstakes, signing a one-year, $14.1MM deal with the free agent right-hander earlier today. We've already published one batch of items about how the Santana signing impacts the other teams who were in the hunt for his services, but here's some news about what the signing means for Atlanta…
- Santana's deal will raise the Braves' payroll to around the $107MM threshold, but club chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk has no problem with the added money since the team is "in a winning mode," he tells MLB.com's Mark Bowman. "It's the right time. Money was not the issue so much as, 'Is it the right time to do it?' We want to send a message to the guys in this clubhouse, our fans and our sponsors and the whole organization that we expect to win."
- "The [Braves'] announced move to Cobb County has become the gift that keeps on giving," Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes (Insider access required). Since the team's new stadium plan was announced, the Braves have had the financial ability to sign Santana and ink several key players to multiyear extensions.
- Braves GM Frank Wren deserves credit for acting quickly to sign Santana, Jeff Schultz of the Journal-Constitution writes, once it became clear that Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy's injuries were serious. In Schultz's words, "more often than not [Wren] is not proactive in situations like this."
- The Braves didn't approach Medlen about an extension this winter, David O'Brien of the Journal-Constitution tweets. Medlen agreed to a one-year, $5.8MM deal for 2014 to avoid arbitration in his second arb-eligible season, and he is eligible for free agency following the 2015 season. Of course, both Medlen's future in Atlanta and his pitching future in general could be in question as it appears likely the right-hander will soon undergo his second Tommy John surgery.
Addressing his team's sudden and successful entry into the market for starter Ervin Santana, Braves GM Frank Wren said that he did not expect to be in the market for free agent starters, but felt Santana was the best option available going into the offseason. (Video of press conference via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.) It was Atlanta's good fortune that Santana remained unsigned when Kris Medlen walked off the mound with an injury on Sunday. Wren immediately made contact, knowing that he had to catch up quickly with other clubs further down the road on talks with Santana. "Once we started talking, we realized that Ervin was very interested in us as well, thought this was a good opportunity for him, and it was a perfect fit for us."
- For Atlanta, the message to the field staff and players was clear. "[The signing] means our GM and our front office want to win," manager Fredi Gonzalez said, as MLB.com's Joe Frisaro tweets.
- The key for Santana was his desire to pitch in the National League, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca reports on Twitter. Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos confirmed, saying that he was told Santana "had a strong desire to pitch in the NL and there was no way to compete with that." (MLB.com's Gregor Chisholm provides a transcript of Anthopoulos's chat with the media today.) The GM also emphasized that he was "very comfortable we did everything we could" to land Santana, who the club "viewed … as an impact starter." Anthopoulos implied some disappointment with the way things unfolded, declining comment on several questions about reports that a deal was done last Saturday by saying that he was "trying to take the high road here."
- From the Twins' perspective, most talks were "very exploratory," assistant GM Rob Antony told Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "I think what they were looking at and were looking for was different from what we were thinking," explained Antony. "… We weren't necessarily looking for a one-year guy."
- Meanwhile, the Royals' short run with Santana is now officially over, but the team feels fine about how things worked out, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star reports on Twitter. "I think Erv's going to do very well," GM Dayton Moore said, "and we're going to get the pick. And it all worked out." Indeed it did: K.C. got a valuable draft choice and excellent season from Santana, all for the low price of $12MM and the rights to minor league lefty Brandon Sisk.
WEDNESDAY: Medlen told reporters, including MLB.com's Mark Bowman (Twitter link), that he has spent the past two days preparing himself for a second Tommy John surgery. David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says there is a "high likelihood" that Medlen will need Tommy John. O'Brien relays that Medlen was "angry and in denial" after injuring his arm on Sunday; he threw two more pitches before exiting the game (Twitter links).
TUESDAY: Braves right-hander Kris Medlen received his MRI results Tuesday and consulted with team doctors before GM Frank Wren addressed the media. David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was on-hand as Wren revealed to the public that the MRI showed "some involvement in the ligament." However, MRIs on patients that have already undergone Tommy John surgery are difficult to read, and Medlen will therefore undergo further tests and meet with Dr. James Andrews to get another opinion before determining if surgery is required.
While Wren wouldn't comment on specific names, he admitted that the team is exploring the starting pitching market for additional help. O'Brien reports that the Braves have definitely reached out to Ervin Santana as one possibility. Wren called the Braves' mounting pitching injuries "worrisome," though the team believes Brandon Beachy's biceps tightness to be routine for players who have undergone elbow surgeries in the past (per O'Brien's Twitter).
Santana threw a two-inning simulated game yesterday and may wait a day or two before signing, Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes reported last night. In that report, he added that financial concern is the main deterrent for the Braves, whose primary competition is the Orioles and Blue Jays. Baltimore has offered a one-year, $13MM deal plus incentives, while Toronto is offering one year and $14MM without incentives. The Twins have offered a three-year deal reported to be in the $30-33MM range, but Santana's preference is a one-year deal, as he could essentially guarantee himself roughly that amount over two years by signing for roughly $14MM for this season and getting a qualifying offer next offseason.
The potential loss of Medlen would be a devastating blow for a Braves rotation that already lost Tim Hudson to free agency and could be without Mike Minor for the early portion of April. Atlanta was projected to have a rotation of Medlen, Minor, Beachy, Julio Teheran and Alex Wood to open the season, with Gavin Floyd eventually slotting in once recovered from Tommy John surgery. Now, they may have to turn to Freddy Garcia, David Hale and other internal candidates, which would be less than ideal for a team expecting to contend in 2014.
Having seen their rotation come into question due to a host of injuries, the Braves made what would have been a relatively shocking move just one week ago; Atlanta announced this morning that they have signed right-hander Ervin Santana to a one-year deal that is reportedly worth $14.1MM — the exact amount of the qualifying offer he rejected back in November.
It's been a rocky offseason for Santana to say the least. Coming off one of the finest seasons of his career, the 31-year-old entered free agency with his eyes on a large multi-year contract, but like fellow free agents Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez, found that teams preferred to wait out the Masahiro Tanaka signing before turning to that trio of top MLB free agents.
Jimenez and Santana, in particular, found suitors difficult to come by due to the compensatory draft picks attached to their names after rejecting qualifying offers. When Jimenez eventually struck a four-year deal worth $50MM (the same amount Garza was guaranteed), Santana was left as the odd man out on the free agent market. He held out for his four-year deal shortly but ultimately set a new course and targeted a one-year deal with an eye toward signing as quickly as possible. That new goal came with the news that he was splitting from agent Bean Stringfellow of Proformance. However, Santana (and Jose Bautista) stuck with agent Jay Alou, who resigned from Proformance shortly after the news.
Santana posted a 3.24 ERA with 6.9 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 and a career-best 46.2 percent ground-ball rate in 211 innings for the Royals last year — his lone season with Kansas City. Royals GM Dayton Moore acquired him from the Angels last offseason in what amounted to a salary dump after Santana posted an ERA north of 5.00 in 2012 and was rewarded for his faith in a bounce-back campaign. Santana now has a sub-4.00 ERA in three of his past four seasons and has seen his ability to produce ground-balls steadily increase since 2011.
The Braves didn't look like a team that needed a great deal of pitching after a 2013 season in which their starters finished sixth in the Majors with a combined 3.51 ERA, tied for sixth with a 3.58 FIP and also tied for sixth with a 3.65 xFIP. However, the team saw Tim Hudson depart via free agency and sign with the Giants, and more recently, they've been beset by injuries in their rotation. Kris Medlen left his Sunday start and is believed to have ligament damage in his right elbow that could require surgery. Brandon Beachy is experiencing tightness in his biceps after undergoing a pair of elbow surgeries (one of which was Tommy John) in the past two years, and Mike Minor could miss a couple of weeks to open the season after urinary tract surgery this offseason.
By making this signing, the Braves are sacrificing their No. 26 overall selection in the draft, though that loss is lessened somewhat by the fact that they will have the No. 32 overall pick after losing Brian McCann to the Yankees as a free agent. The signing also means that Royals will now gain the No. 28 selection in the 2014 draft, as Yahoo's Jeff Passan tweeted over the weekend. That will give Kansas City four of the first 58 picks in this year's draft.
Santana also drew heavy interest from the Blue Jays, Orioles (even after the Jimenez signing) and the Twins late in his free agency. Minnesota even offered a three-year deal believed to be worth $30-33MM, but Santana held firm to his desire for a one-year deal, believing himself capable of posting a big season and re-entering the free agent market next offseason. Santana, of course, could find himself in the same situation next year, but the value of next year's qualifying offer could be north of $15MM. As such, he's likely to earn at least $29MM over the next two seasons anyway, meaning Minnesota's offer is just $1-4MM greater over one more year.
Beyond that, the Braves have a tight payroll and had to make a clear exception to sign Santana this season; they may not be able to afford the risk of extending a qualifying offer, even after a solid season. Finally, another strong year would give Santana back-to-back seasons of well above-average performance and four seasons of a sub-4.00 ERA in five tries. That could be enough to persuade teams that were wary of his rough 2012 and/or the medical reports on his elbow to show interest.
MLB.com's Mark Bowman first tweeted that the two sides were nearing completion on a deal, and David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweeted that the Braves would announce the signing of Santana this morning. Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes confirmed that it was a one-year pact (Spanish Twitter link). Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported Santana's salary (via Twitter).
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Here's the latest on Ervin Santana, whose free agency situation has been the most active in recent days among the three still-unsigned players who declined qualifying offers:
- The Braves are "making [a] legitimate run" to sign Santana, a source tells Jim Bowden of ESPN.com (on Twitter).
- Santana could be expanding the search for possible landing spots, reports Ken Rosethal of FOX Sports (via Twitter). An executive from an interested team told Rosenthal that Santana's representatives were "talking to everyone."
- The Orioles are standing by their previously-reported, one-year offer of around $13MM, reports Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun. A source tells Encina that the O's had been in touch with Santana's reps late this afternoon, and that Santana is likely to choose a destination within the next day or two.
- The Orioles and Blue Jays still look like the favorites, writes Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Santana's interest in a one-year deal is genuine, reports Heyman, with the righty being motivated to prove himself on the field.
- Indeed, as MLBTR's Steve Adams noted earlier this morning, if Santana signs a one-year pact and throws well enough to earn another qualifying offer, he would stand to make nearly as much in two years as he could on the three-year offers he has reportedly received in the low-$30MM range. Or, he might find the substantial, multi-year deal that has seemingly eluded him to date. It bears recalling that Scott Feldman managed to get three years at a $10MM AAV earlier in the offseason, and that more comparable arms like Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez landed $50MM guarantees over four years. Betting on another good season and a market reset carries risk, but accepting a lesser multi-year deal would pretty much ensure that Santana could not reach his full earning potential.
- Orioles GM Dan Duquette called Santana's market "interesting," with more possible teams seemingly entering the fray as injuries change roster complexions.
- We learned that Braves starter Kris Medlen is getting a second opinion, but his MRI shows ligament damage. Atlanta has definitely been in touch with Santana, the same report provided.
The Braves are indeed very interested, with financial concerns the main limitation. Meanwhile, the Royals have put in a call on Santana. The Blue Jays and Orioles have standing offers out, Rojas adds.
2:21pm: O'Brien hears from a person connected to the Royals that the Braves may now be making a run at Santana (Twitter link). In addition to Medlen's injury, Brandon Beachy left today's Spring Training start with biceps tightness.
10:17am: The Braves haven't completely ruled out Santana in the event of a serious Medlen injury, writes MLB.com's Mark Bowman, but the financial and draft pick costs are definite factors. Atlanta would very much like to strengthen its crop of top prospects, and sacrificing the No. 26 selection in the draft would go against that thinking.
9:19am: Over the weekend it was reported that Ervin Santana has completely changed course and is now seeking a one-year deal with an eye toward a lucrative multi-year deal next offseason. With one-year offers of $13MM plus incentives and $14MM without incentives from the Orioles and Blue Jays, respectively, there appear to be a pair of clear favorites for Santana.
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports provides some updates on the Santana sweepstakes this morning, noting that the Blue Jays' players are lobbying for Santana to come to Toroto. Santana has many friends on the club, including countrymen Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Reyes. One source told Rosenthal that several Jays players got together and texted Santana a picture of themselves holding a poster that read, "Come to Toronto."
One potentially game-changing factor to the Santana market could be the severity of the injury to Braves right-hander Kris Medlen, who left Sunday's Spring Training game with a forearm strain. David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution touched on the topic this morning, wondering if the Braves could consider expanding their budget to bring him into the fold. Rosenthal writes that the Braves will get the results of an MRI on Medlen today. The draft pick loss wouldn't be as big for the Braves as some teams around the league, as Atlanta would surrender the No. 26 selection after already having received the No. 32 selection for losing Brian McCann to free agency. That forfeiture, however, would be the most significant of the specific teams mentioned in Rosenthal's piece.
Rosenthal also has some specifics on recent offers made to Santana; the Orioles' last three-year offer was believed to be in the $27MM range, while the three-year offer from the Twins was in the $30-33MM range. That offer was still on the table as of last night. However, as Rosenthal notes, Santana could earn nearly that much over the next two seasons by taking $14MM or so in 2014 and receiving a qualifying offer following the season, as next year's QO could jump to the $15-16MM range.