Atlanta Braves sign Santana – but what will that mean?

Atlanta Braves yesterday signed Ervin Santana on a one-year, $14.1million, deal.

Braves General Manager Frank Wren commented on his new acquisition: “In light of what has happened over the past few days with our pitching staff, we felt it was incumbent on us to do everything we could to strengthen our starting pitching.”

Santana said of his new club: “I’m really thrilled to be in this organization with the young talent. It’s going to be a fun season for us.”

Yesterday, I looked at what I perceived to be a serious flaw with the Braves in terms of being able to generate and possibly prevent enough runs to be competitive in 2014, and how Kris Medlen had been taken out of a game recently.

Unfortunately for Medlen, and Atlanta, a Tommy John (TJ) elbow ligament surgery (a potential second of Medlen’s career) could well be required. This would rule him out of the 2014 season completely.

With Brandon Beachy also exiting a game with elbow soreness recently and Mike Minor behind in his spring training preparations after being taken down with should discomfort earlier in the spring, the Braves were forced to act and sign Santana.

Effectively, this means it is likely Santana will be taking Medlen’s spot in the rotation for 2014.

An average year statistically for Santana goes as 13-11 with a 4.19 ERA, 1.281 WHIP and 100 ERA+. As his very average WHIP would suggest, Santana has had problems with control in the past, leading to high home run numbers. His career average 11% flyball/home run rate is mediocre and as recently as 2012 it shot up to a stratospheric 18.9% compared to 12.4% in 2013.

Those stats do not exactly inspire enthusiasm but Santana has had some outstanding years mixed in with some very bad ones.

Last season he had a record of 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA, 1.142 WHIP and a 127 ERA+, which was the best ERA+ he has ever posted tied with his 2008 season. Another great sign was he also put up a 3.16 SO/BB ratio the second best of his career as well as accruing a 2.9 bWAR tied for second best of his career.

That followed up a 2012 in which Santana posted a career worse 5.16 ERA and 74 ERA+, allowing a career high 39 home runs and putting up another career low of -1.3 bWAR.

The reason Santana took a short term deal was he wants to prove himself and have a good year in order to gain himself a more lucrative long term contract in next year’s free agency class. Ironically, the $14.1 million he signed with the Braves for is the same amount as the qualifying offer which he turned down from the Kansas City Royals earlier in the offseason.

I don’t think he will fully be able to replace Medlen’s production. However, if the good version of Santana shows up in 2014, the Braves may not miss Medlen as much as they thought.

The Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays also had a keen interest in signing Santana. Toronto even had a $14million contract offer on the table. Ultimately, his desire to pitch in the more pitcher friendly NL East won the day.

Both teams had problems with their starting rotations last season. Baltimore ranked 27th in the major leagues with a 4.57 rotation ERA. The Blue Jays were even worse ranking 29th with a 4.81 ERA.

The Orioles had already made strides to try and improve their rotation situation by signing Suk-Min Yoon and Usbaldo Jimenez. It seemed as if Toronto did have a desire to sign Ervin Santana but they wanted to wait until his market had completely bottomed out.

Overall, that probably makes the Blue Jays the biggest losers in the situation. The Orioles maybe disappointed that they were not further able to bolster their starting corps but they will be better for the improvements they have already made.

As for the Atlanta Braves in my previous column I put them at 87-90 wins in 2014, and as long as Beachy and Minor do return to full health, I would stand by that prediction. My only caveat being the loss of Medlen makes it harder for them to get to 90 meaning that 87-88 wins is probably more likely.

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