The Atlanta Braves did not tender a contract to starting pitcher Kris Medlen before last night's non-tender deadline, making him a free agent. Medlen, a 29 year old right-hander, missed all of the 2014 season due to Tommy John surgery. It was his second such surgery in four years, leaving the Braves wary of paying him the estimated $5.8 million he was due in 2015. While reports indicate that Medlen may work out an incentive-laden deal with the Braves, could the Tigers swoop in and offer a sweeter deal?
*2015 Steamer projection
Who is he?
Medlen was selected by the Braves in the 10th round of the 2006 draft. A three year college pitcher, Medlen rose quickly through the Braves' farm system. He made his MLB debut in May of 2009, but allowed a 6.28 ERA in his first three career starts. He made 68 appearances (18 starts) for the Braves in 2009 and 2010, but underwent Tommy John surgery in August of 2010. After missing nearly all of the 2011 season, Medlen came back better than ever in 2012. He spent the first half of the season in the Braves' bullpen, a ploy meant to limit his innings.
The plan worked, as Medlen had a legendary second half. He made 12 starts down the stretch, going 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA as the Braves walked away with the NL East title. With expectations high for the 2013 season, Medlen delivered, allowing a 3.11 ERA and 3.48 FIP in 197 innings. The increased workload may have taken its toll, though. Medlen underwent a second Tommy John in March, missing the entire 2014 season.
Why should we care?
When healthy, Medlen has been a really good pitcher. His ridiculous stretch in 2012 speaks for itself, but the underlying numbers might be even more impressive. He posted a 2.22 FIP and 2.50 xFIP in that 12 start run, largely thanks to an 8.40 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Opponents hit just .191/.218/.265 against him, and he had a minuscule 0.80 WHIP.
Hot stretches are nice, but Medlen backed up the hype with a stellar 2013 season. He posted a 3.34 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 1.22 WHIP. He had 15 starts of seven innings or more. Fatigue didn't seem to be a factor, as he allowed a 2.38 ERA and 2.86 FIP in the second half. He struck out 19.2 percent of the batters he faced, but walked just 5.7 percent of batters and induced 15 double plays thanks to a 45.3 percent ground ball rate.
Why should we stay away?
Any concerns about Medlen begin and end with that right elbow. Having Tommy John surgery is no longer a death sentence to a player's career, and is almost the norm around baseball nowadays. However, a second Tommy John surgery -- especially one as quickly as Medlen's -- is a red flag. The list of starting pitchers who have returned to their prior level of dominance after a second Tommy John is short, if not nonexistent. Velocity, command, and stamina are all issues that could plague Medlen for the rest of his career, and he may very well end up in the bullpen.
Will he end up in Detroit?
Reports say that the Braves would like to retain Medlen, but now that he is a free agent, anything can happen. He likely will not be ready for Spring Training after having Tommy John surgery last March, but should be good to go shortly after. The Braves are looking to offer an incentive-laden deal with a potential option for 2016, something the Tigers would likely need to top if they are interested in wooing him. The Tigers have not typically signed pitchers fresh off of surgery before, though Joel Hanrahan is a recent exception. Picking up Medlen is a gamble, but one that could work out in the Tigers' favor, as they will likely need him more in 2016 than in the early part of 2015.