In something of a surprise switch, Aaron Harang, not Freddy Garcia, will be the veteran fill-in in the Braves' rotation to start the 2014 season. That's the result of the moves Braves made on Monday, releasing Garcia and signing Harang, who had been released by the Indians, with whom he was in camp as a non-roster invitee, just hours earlier.
Garcia and Harang were both Article XX(B) free agents, meaning their teams faced a Tuesday deadline by which they had to guarantee the player a spot on the Opening Day roster (or disabled list), pay him a $100,000 retention bonus, or release him. Both the Indians, who have a full rotation and are still trying to decide among their homegrown candidates for the fifth spot, and the Braves, whose rotation has been decimated by injuries, most significantly Tommy John surgery for both Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, opted to release the player.
For Cleveland, the choice was clear. For the Braves, the decision to swap out one seemingly used-up veteran for another is curious. Garcia is 37. Harang will be 36 on May 9. Both are right-handers. Both have devolved into below-average journeymen. Harang's fastball still cracks 90 miles per hour with some regularity, which is less true of Garcia, who tends to sit in the high 80s, but Harang is also the more extreme fly-ball pitcher of the two. Over the last four years, Garcia has passed through five organizations and averaged 123 innings per season with a 96 ERA+, 5.9 strikeouts per nine innings and a 2.25 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Over the same span, Harang has passed through seven organizations (the Braves make it eight) and averaged 151 innings per season with an 86 ERA+, 6.7 K/9, and a 2.04 K/BB. Harang has had the better spring (2.00 ERA to Garcia's 4.76), but he has done it over just nine innings, compared to Garcia's 17, while in camp with another team.
Atlanta general manager Frank Wren's explanation to the press made it even less clear why the team preferred Harang over Garcia. "We did not want to go into the season with, really, four young guys and just not have any coverage for them," Wren said. "I think this gives us someone that's kind of been through the battles and knows what to do, knows how to handle things." Never mind that Garcia started a postseason game for the Braves last October and turned in a quality start. "Similar to Freddy," Wren admitted, "we just felt [Harang] was a better fit for us." With Harang in place, the Braves will open the season with a rotation of sophomores Julio Teheran (who has been named the Opening Day starter) and Alex Wood, rookie David Hale, and Harang, which will be joined by Ervin Santana by the time the team needs a fifth starter on April 12. The Braves hope that Mike Minor, who was officially placed on the disabled list on Sunday with tendonitis in his pitching shoulder, will be able to return in late April to replace the weakest of that initial quintet, which is likely to be Hale or Harang, and that Gavin Floyd, working his way back from his own Tommy John surgery, can return in May to give the rotation an additional boost. As for Garcia, he has said he will retire if he does not land a major league job this spring.