Braves sign free agent pitcher Santana to one-year deal

Braves free agent signing Ervin Santana has won 105 games over the course of nine MLB seasons with the Angels and Royals.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Braves wasted little time in addressing their rotation’s health concerns, signing free agent starter Ervin Santana to a one-year deal, the team announced on Wednesday. According to multiple media outlets, the deal is reportedly worth $14.1 million.

The move comes on the heels of a problematic week for the rotation’s overall health and strength, as starters Kris Medlen, who was expected to get the ball on Opening Day, and Brandon Beachy both left spring training games prematurely on Sunday and Monday, respectively.

After an initial diagnosis of a right forearm strain, Medlen’s MRI showed ligament damage in his elbow and he is seeking a second opinion, likely from Dr. James Andrews who performed his Tommy John surgery back in 2010. General manager Frank Wren told reporters on Wednesday that there is a "high likelihood" of Medlen undergoing his second Tommy John surgery due to the tear in his ulnar collateral ligament. Beachy exited with discomfort and tightness in his right bicep muscle, but said his throwing arm’s ligament was not affected. Still, Beachy is on a long road back from Tommy John surgery, including a "cleaning out" last season after just five starts, and it’s evident he is not back to full strength entering the campaign.

So Wren made his move.

"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," Wren said at the announcement. "Throughout the winter, we didn’t feel like we were going to be in this market. But we felt Ervin was the No. 1 guy in the market. We’ve always felt if we were going to go out there, we would love to have him."

The $14 million signing will cost the Braves a first-round draft pick (No. 26) in compensation to the Kansas City Royals, who extended a qualifying offer to Santana before he became an unrestricted free agent, and will take the franchise well above its estimated $100 million payroll cap, as the team was already committed to roughly $95 million heading into the 2014 season. The team’s Opening Day payroll last year sat just above $90 million.

Santana, 31, was reportedly drawing offers the Blue Jays, Orioles and Twins as well.

(Side note: As pointed out by Buster Olney, by signing Santana to a one-year deal, the Braves could recoup a compensatory pick next season if he pitches well and they extend a qualifying offer to him next winter. The Braves will still have a compensatory first-round pick (No. 31) in this year’s draft thanks to the qualifying offer they extended to former catcher Brian McCann, who signed with the Yankees.)

Santana revived his career in Kansas City last season, posting a 9-10 record with a 3.24 ERA in 32 starts — good enough for a 3.93 fielding-independent pitching (FIP) and a 3.0 WAR. There are potential concerns here, though. Over the course of his career, Santana has put up top-of-the-rotation numbers in some years (2006, 2008) and been erratic in others. In 2012, then with the Angels, Santana started 30 games and was one of the least valuable starting pitchers in baseball: he cost the Angels a win (-1.0 WAR) while walking far too many batters and giving up nearly as many home runs to those he didn’t.

All told, though, the Braves moved quickly to ensure its starting rotation did not limp into the regular season — starters Mike Minor (behind schedule following urinary tract procedure) and Gavin Floyd (Tommy John rehab) will also be unavailable come Opening Day — as Santana brings more experience than some of the team’s younger arms and more in the proverbial tank than 37-year-old veteran Freddy Garcia.

Which Ervin Santana the Braves are getting remains to be seen. With Medlen all but guaranteed to miss the 2014 season, they’ll need the best the former All-Star has to offer.