With the quarter-point of the season just zipping by on the side of the road and the draft coming up in just a few weeks, there is enough of the season in the rearview to begin to frame the Braves' moves this past offseason.
What started as a largely inactive offseason--at least as far external additions are concerned--for Frank Wren and crew took a drastic and desperate turn when they lost 40% of their starting rotation for the season over the course of a hellish couple of days in March. Before Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy were lost to second Tommy John surgeries, Atlanta had very few issues on their roster. Sure, Wren extended Andrelton Simmons, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, and Julio Teheran, but nearly every positional hole opened up by departures--namely Tim Hudson, Brian McCann, and Paul Maholm--had viable internal options for replacement. Alex Wood and Brandon Beachy looked ready to fill in for the departing veteran pitchers, and Evan Gattis and Gerald Laird looked able to fill in for the departed Brian McCann.
Their plan at catcher has worked fairly well thus far with McCann's transition to the American League going about as well as the early months of the Obamacare website, thanks to a .226 BABIP that has kept his slash line at a woeful .225/.262/.373 with a startling .278 wOBA and 70 wRC+. Were it not for his contributions while wearing five pounds of gear and policing fun, McCann would be a huge sunk cost. As it stands, his worth to the Yankees thus far clocks in at 0.3 fWAR and 0.3 rWAR.
At the very least, Atlanta must be glad that they didn't meet the Yankees' offer of $17MM per year through his age-34 season for the increasingly injured backstop.
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The rotation, however, did not work out as planned. With the departures of Hudson and Maholm, the Braves were looking at having to replace 284.1 innings from their rotation. Beachy and Wood appeared to be ready for the task; but when Medlen and Beachy went down, the deficit of innings from the rotation rose to 481.1 that Alex Wood and the mouse in his pocket were going to need to fill.
Enter Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang.
To say the Ervin Santana saga was well-documented would be a grotesque understatement. In short, the Braves parted with the 26th pick of the draft to sign Ervin Santana to a one-year, $14.1MM deal. With McCann turning down the Braves qualifying offer, the Braves still had a compensatory pick, but rather than having the 26th and 33rd pick of the 2014 MLB draft, they just have the 32nd pick.
Of course, a quarter of the way through the season, it looks like a safe bet that Santana's performance will warrant at least a proffered qualifying offer from Frank Wren. Given Santana's early performance (on pace for 4.8 fWAR and 4.4 rWAR) and his improved change-up, it would be surprising if he didn't turn down the qualifying offer to venture back out into free agency, where one assumes he will get the multi-year deal he so desires.
In essence, this means that the Braves are simply trading the 26th pick of the first round in 2014 for a compensatory pick a handful of spots later in the 2015 draft.
If the Braves had only signed Santana, it may not--or more likely would not--have been enough.
Twelve days later, the Braves pounced when the Indians cut Aaron Harang loose. The 36-year-old righty signed a one-year, $1.0MM deal with Atlanta. Somewhat miraculously, Harang has been worth 1.5 fWAR and 0.8 rWAR over the course of 54.1 IP. Combined with Santana, they have provided Atlanta with 2.7 fWAR and 1.9 rWAR with 25% of the season in the books.
At a total price tag for the season of just $15.1MM, it is hard not to marvel at the unlikely saviors to the Braves season. Sitting atop the NL East standings at 24 - 19 with just the Brewers and Giants sporting better records in the Senior Circuit, one has to say that the early returns on both last-minute signings have been exceptionally positive for Frank Wren & Co.