“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well you might find, you get what you need” – Rolling Stones
On Wednesday the Atlanta Braves signed Ervin Santana to a 1 year, $14.1 Million deal. This, after learning their projected Opening Day starter Kris Medlen will likely have to undergo Tommy John Surgery for the 2nd time in just 4 years. In addition to that, their number 2 and 3 starters are having injury issues as well. If you could paint a picture of how the Braves wanted to start the season, this would not be it. The Braves wanted health for all their starters, but quickly realized they couldn’t have it.
Ervin Santana was the last major free agent pitcher on the market after a strange saga of representing himself this off-season and turning down several multi-year deals including ones from the Minnesota Twins, Baltimore Orioles, and Toronto Blue Jays. He wanted to maximize his earnings potential and reportedly also did not want to pitch in the AL East. He wanted to win now, but with the teams going after him, he too could not get what he wanted.
Yet despite both parties not getting what they wanted, well they did find, they got what they needed.
While it is a luxury the Padres don’t have to pull out a spare $14.1 Million to push their team payroll over $100 Million, it does present the opportunity for the Padres to learn a few things from this situation. It speaks to how they handle things in the present, throughout the season, and well into the future.
1) If you have a need – fill it! You might miss out! The Blue Jays are the big losers here, as their GM Alex Anthopoulos waited for the market value to come down on Santana and missed out in filling a major hole for his team. Or Santana just didn’t want to pitch in the American League, but doesn’t that just sound like an excuse for not getting him? Now they have 40 year old R.A. Dickey, inconsistent J.A. Happ, consistently average Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow, and a big question mark. The Padres didn’t go crazy this off season, but they knew what they wanted and got it. They got a front-line starter in Josh Johnson. They got the extra outfielder to hit righties better in Seth Smith, and a quality set-up man to replace the departed Luke Gregorson who could also close if Huston Street gets injured or is ineffective.
2) You can never have too much starting pitching. I don’t want to say the Braves were careless, but they “let” Tim Hudson (clearly money was NOT the issue) leave in free agency to the Giants. They knew their rotation would be led by one guy who had Tommy John two years ago in Medlen, one guy just coming back from TJ in Beachy, Mike Minor, a 2nd year starter in Julio Teheran, and rookie Alex Wood. Backup? Another Tommy John returnee Gavin Floyd and 68 year-old Freddy Garcia. Meanwhile, the Padres look to have pretty decent starting pitching depth. It can be assumed Josh Johnson will miss a few starts here and there, and for that matter Bud Black might monitor the innings of both Cashner and Ross late in the year. To fill those starts Black and the Padres can choose from several options, including two guys who pitched in San Diego late last year in Burch Smith and Robbie Erlin. Throw in a hopeful mid-season appearance of Casey Kelly or Joe Wieland, the flexible Tim Stauffer in the bullpen, and in theory the Padres can withstand a few surprises along the way.
3) Build a winning culture and good things will come. This one is some conjecture, but one reason many critics are citing for explaining why Santana would reject a multi-year deal from the Twins to sign a 1 year with the Braves is that the Braves are ready to win. Interesting because just a year ago Santana went to the “trying to win now” Royals from the Angels. It almost worked. Yet, he hasn’t been to the post-season since 2009. The Orioles or Blue Jays would be a tough fight to get there this year with the re-tooled Yankees and defending champion Red Sox. The Twins are still a rebuilding project, and the Royals couldn’t afford him and actually still end up okay in all of this. The Padres clearly have some work to do in getting to be a destination like the Braves, but except for the Dodgers, the NL West is a pretty open division. Perhaps in two years when players are looking at similar monetary deals, and deciding between the NL West Padres and AL East anyone, they might actually choose the Padres.
So there are your lessons of the week, Padres. How you apply those lessons in the weeks, months and years to come is up to you. Indeed, your retention of today’s lesson will be tested when this year’s trade deadline comes, and you decide what is needed for the stretch run. In 2010, you went and got Miguel Tejada; was that the best option available? Will you trade Chase Headley in haste or will you hesitate and not make the move that needs to be made(See lesson 1). How do you handle your young pitching staff to avoid injury and figure out who you should sign to a multi-year deal(lesson 2)? When will San Diego be the team that attracts, breeds, and exudes greatness and how is that maintained(lesson 3)? Truly an entire season presents these question marks and more, and for any of us to truly say we know the correct answer would be facetious. Now, on the great canvas of what the 2014 season will hold, it is up to the manager to paint a picture of success to bring home a World Championship given the players he has and the outcome he needs. It is indeed up to you to Paint it, (Bud) Black.