It started with Kris Medlen. Arguably the best Braves pitcher in 2013, Medlen took the hill in a Spring Training game against the New York Mets. During his start, Medlen ran off the hill in pain. He didn't return. He has not returned since. He will not return until 2015. Medlen was the third major league pitcher to have Tommy John surgery in 2014, but wasn't the only Atlanta Brave to do so.
Brandon Beachy, Medlen's teammate, also felt elbow pain. He was removed for "precautionary reasons." After seeing Dr. James Andrews, Beachy, like Medlen, would be scheduled to undergo Tommy John surgery. Opening Day hadn't come, and the Braves were already down two pitchers thought to be in the starting rotation.
In spite of the news, the Braves signed pitcher Ervin Santana to a contract, in hopes to patch up some issues with their rotation. Santana started off the season hot, but has cooled off quite a bit lately, settling in with a 4.12 ERA.
And so the Braves trudged on. However, that wasn't the end of their starting pitching woes.
Just on Thursday, Atlanta starter Gavin Floyd was dealing. He had pitched six innings, allowing just two hits, striking out six Washington Nationals, while just walking one. However, Floyd had to leave the game, because, you guessed it, elbow problems. While Floyd did not have any ligament issues in his elbow, he fractured the bone. So, he'll be out for some time as well.
What am I getting at by sharing all the Braves pitching woes?
July 31 isn't too far away. That is the MLB trade deadline. The Braves, with all their starting pitching issues, might want to make a move. They are in the thick of the pennant race on the summer solecist. Heck, they're in first place! The Braves, at 38-35, lead the Nationals by a half of a game, the Marlins by one, Phillies by three and a half, and the Mets by five and a half.
The two best pitchers on the trade market, David Price and Jeff Samardzija, might just be on Atlanta's radar in the coming weeks. As the Washington Nationals start to get healthy and give them a run for their money, the Braves might want to pursue either Price or Samardzija to solidify their chances of not only going into the postseason, but deep into it.
While salary cap and prospects are always issues for teams at the trade deadline, the Braves acquiring Samardzija or Price could save their season. If their entire rotation was healthy, I honestly could see the Braves in first place by five or six games. While their offense isn't great, there have been plenty of games that, with a little more pitching, the Braves could have pulled away from their division rivals.
Samardzija might be the more realistic of the two pitchers. I was talking to Robert Murray of Sports Injury Alert (he's a great follow on Twitter, by the way) not too long ago about where Samardzija might land. We both agreed that the Braves could make a serious run at the pitcher if they wanted to.
The only issue for the Braves is their lack of prospects. Their most major league ready prospect is catcher Christian Betancourt, currently posting a .667 OPS at Triple-A Gwinnett. However, the Chicago Cubs have catchers in their organization, especially after drafting Kyle Schwarber in the first round of this season's draft. The Braves might not be able to fill the Cubs wants, or even offer something close to what other teams might. It looks like it could be an uphill battle for Atlanta.
Then, there is always the issue of salary. The Braves have an estimated (according to BaseballReference.com) $108.7 million committed to their current roster. While taking on Jeff Samardzija's $5.35 million won't hurt them towards the salary cap by any means (Samardzija is due for arbitration again at the end of the year), the question becomes, do the Braves want to become a bigger-market team and spend more money? If the answer is yes, Samardzija could be headed to Atlanta.
The lack of starting pitching is definitely there for the Atlanta Braves. How they want to fix it is their problem, but do not be surprised if Jeff Samardzija or even David Price are on their radar with the upcoming trade deadline quickly approaching. It might be the only antidote to the Braves version of the "Tommy John epidemic."