Elbow injuries have limited Brandon Beachy to five starts since June 2012. (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
It's official: Brandon Beachy will join Kris Medlen in having his second Tommy John surgery. With that, the Braves have now lost two members of their intended starting rotation for the entire 2014 season before Opening Day. Beachy made five major league starts last year after returning from his first Tommy John surgery, which was performed in June 2012, but his elbow was never right, and he had an additional surgery in September to clean up the joint. This spring, he threw just 6 2/3 innings over three starts, the last of those coming the day after Medlen tore his ulnar collateral ligament. Beachy was removed early from that start after showing a noticeable drop in velocity and complaining of tightness in his elbow and biceps. In the wake of those two starts, the Braves signed Ervin Santana to a one-year, $14.1 million contract, but even with Santana in place, the Braves' rotation, which just two weeks ago was one of the team's primary strengths both because of its quality and its depth, is now a significant question mark.
Looking only at Medlen and Beachy, one can argue that Santana replaces Medlen, and Beachy, having made just five starts last year, isn't a significant loss given his lack of contribution to the team that won 96 games and the National League East title last year. However, that ignores the free agent departures of Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm, who combined for 47 starts for the Braves last year, departures Beachy's return was supposed to help replace. In total, between free agency and Tommy John surgery, the Braves have lost four pitchers who combined to start 83 games last year, or more than half of the season. What's more, both Santana, whose late signing resulted in a late start to his spring, and Mike Minor, who has yet to appear in a game this spring due to shoulder soreness believed to have resulted from his inactivity following surgery on his urethra in December, aren't expected to be part of the rotation until the second half of April. That could push the number of starts the Braves need to replace heading into the season to 90, assuming both Santana and Minor return when expected and they suffer no further injuries.
Santana should take roughly 30 of those starts. Sophomore Alex Wood, who made 11 starts last year, could take another 20 if the Braves don't put an innings limit on him (Wood is just 23 and threw fewer than 140 innings last year in what was his first full professional season ). Free agent addition Gavin Floyd, who is coming off his own Tommy John surgery, could be ready to join the rotation in late May. If all goes well, he could take another 20 of those starts. That still leaves 20 starts up for grabs for the likes of non-roster invitee Freddy Garcia and rookie David Hale, who combined for five starts for Atlanta last year.
When the season starts, the Braves' rotation is most likely to be some combination of Julio Teheran, Wood, Garcia, and Hale. The team won't need a fifth starter until April 12, which could minimize the delayed starts of Santana and Minor. By June, the team hopes their starting five will be Santana, Minor, Teheran, Floyd, and Wood, a solid starting five, though not on par with what the Braves had hoped for just two weeks ago. And with Wood effectively borrowed from the bullpen, where he would have wound up if Medlen and Beachy were healthy, that unit is weakened as well. Still, the season will be a third-over by the time the Braves' rotation is expected to be at full (though still reduced) strength. With the Nationalspoised to rebound from their disappointing 2013 season and significant question marks lurking in the Atlanta lineup following the free agent departure of Brian McCann and the disastrous 2013 seasons of B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla, the Braves, who seemed to put their division away early last year with a 13-2 start, could find the script flipped on them this year.