Dan Szymborski, the fine baseball analyst of ZiPS projection system fame, wrote a nice article for espn.com claiming that Ervin Santana’s one-year, $14.1 million signing could cost the Braves $33 million in value, when you consider what the Braves are paying Santana and the typical win value of the 26th draft pick the Braves lose while the Braves would have that player under their control, pre-free agency.
Szymborski does make the point that the 26th pick could end up being as valuable as Craig Hansen or, conversely, could end up being as valuable as Alan Trammell or Dan Plesac. The argument is that the Braves may very well be paying a hefty price for Santana, a lot more hefty than the one year at $14.1 million, since they are losing a first-round pick with significant win-value potential.
I agree, to a point. But flags fly forever. When you are a contender and as close to a World Series as the Braves feel they are, you have to take some risks. Most of the core talent is locked up for a few years and, while that helps increase the chances for them to remain contenders, there are no guarantees. Sure they shouldn’t blow all their resources trying to contend for next season but they also should put themselves in a good position, because you never know about the future.
Another thing to consider is that it’s possible (God forbid) that both Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy won’t contribute in 2014. Gavin Floyd is no sure thing. Freddy Garcia and near-ready prospects like Cody Martin might not give the Braves anything. And, although Alex Wood had a fine season last year, plenty of evaluators have questions about him as a starting pitcher, long term, mostly because of his mechanics. The Braves go in with Julio Teheran, Mike Minor and probably Alex Wood as the only somewhat sure contributors in the rotation for 2014. Considering all this, the trade-off of the 26th pick for Santana doesn’t look so bad. Also consider, they are committed to Santana for only one year. In a way, that could be viewed as a negative that they gave up the 26th overall pick for one year of a decent pitcher. But we could also view it that they are getting a starting pitcher that could provide the extra win or two that gets them into the playoffs or gets them the division title or, better yet, allows them to advance deep in the playoffs.
Szymborski suggested the Braves go all in on a much better starter, if they were willing to give up such a pick. There’s one problem: The Braves don’t have the prospects to net Price or Samardzija, as he suggested, or the depth of prospects to make it worthwhile to get one of those guys. They likely aren’t giving up Sims or Bethancourt because if they do, they’ve lost their only possible impact prospects. And after those two players, all the legit prospects are likely to be back-end-of-the-rotation guys, relievers, second-division regulars, extra players and lower-level, high-ceiling guys. Maybe one or two of those pitching prospects becomes a solid, mid-rotation guy, at best.
The Braves are taking a risk. Santana was solid last year and has typically added at least some noticeably-above-replacement-level value, but he’s been up and down. It’s no sure thing that he’ll be close to a $14.1 million pitcher in 2014. And the 26th pick could turn into a decent major leaguer. But the Braves rotation, while built deep, is made up of thin depth. They have four or five guys, beyond Teheran and Minor, who could contribute, and it’s not hard to imagine those same four or five guys getting hurt and/or not contributing at all.