The news is not good for the 2013 NL East Champion Atlanta Braves and the 2013 AL West Champion Oakland Athletics – each team is losing one of their most valuable pitchers from last season to the same injury. Both Kris Medlen and Jarrod Parker will miss the 2014 season because of Tommy John surgery, the second such surgery for each player.
The 28-year old Medlen had a 3.11 ERA in 197 innings a year ago for the Braves, striking out 157 and walking just 47. It was his second full season after his initial Tommy John surgery, which took place in August of 2010, and Medlen was awesome for Atlanta in the 337 1/3 major league innings between surgeries.
The 25-year old Parker had a 3.97 ERA in 197 innings for the A’s in 2013, his second full year in the majors and third year overall since his surgery in October of 2009 when he was in the Diamondbacks organization. Every one of his 384 major league innings came after the surgery, along with 151 1/3 innings in the minor leagues.
In my opinion, the situation that the Braves face with Medlen after his surgery is much more hazy than the situation that Oakland faces with Parker. Medlen is making $5.8 million this year, and has one more season of arbitration left before htiting free agency. Are the Braves going to non-tender Medlen and possibly try to sign him to a contract with less guaranteed money for 2015? After all, they can’t simply cut his salary to the league minimum next year – the arbitation process simply does not work that way. The Braves would either have to essentially let Medlen test the free agent market or give him a hefty chunk of guaranteed money for a recovery that may not even put him on a timetable to pitch a full season in 2015.
We saw a similar situation to this last winter, when the Diamondbacks non-tendered Daniel Hudson entering his first year of arbitration and re-signed him to a minor league deal while he was still recovering from his second Tommy John. Hell, the Braves did it themselves with Jonny Venters this winter, signing him to a contract for 2014 for the exact same salary he made in 2013 while recovering from his second Tommy John. However, neither of those players made nearly as much as Medlen’s $5.8 million – Hudson was a league minimum guy heading into his first year of arbitration, and Venters was making just a little over $1.6 million. Neither of those contracts can at all compare to the moderate chunk of payroll that a Medlen re-signing would take. A better comparison may be Brian Wilson, who was non-tendered by the Giants after making $6.5 million in 2012 and undergoing his second Tommy John in April. Wilson sat out until July of 2013 before signing an incentive-laden contract with the Dodgers.
As for Parker and the A’s, the situation will likely more resemble Hudson’s situation in Arizona. Parker will be a first-time arbitration eligible pitcher this winter, and Oakland will likely be able to keep him in the fold for a pittance compared to some of the other pitchers that have come and gone through the organization. The long-term impact of Parker’s injury on the A’s will be confined only to the field, and not the future payroll constraints of the club.
But what about each injury’s 2014 impact on each club? Medlen is the first of what could be two Atlanta starters that will miss the season – Brandon Beachy visiited Dr. James Andrews on Monday, but is getting another opinioni in Los Angeles on Tuesday, and a second Tommy John could also be on the horizon for him. The Braves adequately filled one of those rotation holes by signing former Royal Ervin Santana to a one-year, $14.1 million contract and pulling him out of free agent purgatory, but is a rotation consisting of Santana, the recently-extended Julio Teheran, and the banged up Mike Minor good enough to compete with the Nationals for the NL East crown? That trio will likely be joined by two of David Hale, Alex Wood, and Freddy Garcia, with Gavin Floyd joining the rotation party once he fully recovers from his own Tommy John surgery. At its strongest, a rotation of Santana-Minor-Teheran-Wood-Floyd doesn’t seem like much of a dropoff compared to Minor-Teheran-Medlen-Beachy-Floyd, but there is a lot of uncertainty with the former, most notably in regards to Santana’s ability to repeat a stellar 2013, the questions surrounding Wood’s future role, and Floyd’s potentially shaky recovery from Tommy John.
As for the Athletics, Parker’s loss adds some uncertainty to a shaky rotation situation. A.J. Griffin is dealing with elbow tendinitis, and his availability is a question. Scott Kazmir is having some trouble with biceps soreness, and health has never been a strong suit for him. Tommy Milone, who looked destined for AAA just a month ago, now seems assured of a spot in the rotation. Jesse Chavez, who seemed like DFA bait just a monrh ago, might be safe past Opening Day because of his brief 2013 history as a starter. Starting pitching, a seemingly annual strength for the A’s, might actually be a weakness in April, and the duo of Drew Pomeranz and Josh Lindblom could be more important than anyone thought going into the season.
The injuries suffered by these two pitchers are very similar, but that’s about where the similiarities end. Their teams will be in different situations following their surgeries, both in 2014 and beyond. Medlen may never throw another pitch for the Braves, while Parker could figure prominently into Oakland’s plans next year. Atlanta may not miss a beat without Medlen in 2014, while the A’s could fall apart without Parker. It’s pretty amazing that a pair of situations that seem so simple on the surface could be so complex once you dig a little deeper, but here we are.