The success rate for recovery from Tommy John surgery is about 92 percent these days, but there are always exceptions. Unfortunately for the Atlanta Braves, two of their starting pitchers may fall in that category.
Both Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy will see Dr. James Andrews on Monday for a second opinion on their elbow injuries. Both players are expected to require Tommy John surgery for the second time in their careers.
Even though the Braves recently signed starter Ervin Santana, they are looking at a potential disaster in their rotation. Lefty Mike Minor is also dealing with shoulder soreness and could begin the season on the disabled list.
Taking Medlen and Beachy out of the rotation leaves Julio Teheran and Alex Wood as their No. 1 and No. 2 starters. After that is Santana, who was fantastic for the Royals last season (3.24 ERA, 211 IP), but is one year removed from recording a 5.16 ERA and allowing the most home runs (39) in the majors.
Behind Santana is veteran Freddy Garcia, 37, who has gone 11-13 with a 4.84 ERA over the last two seasons. He has also struggled this spring with nine earned runs in 11 2/3 innings.
Prospect David Hale looks like their projected fifth starter at this point, depending on Minor's status. The former third round pick boasts a solid 3.69 ERA in five minor league seasons, but has just 11 MLB innings to his name.
As far as pitching prospects go, the Braves have a few with bright futures, but they are too far away to make an impact any time soon. Their best young arm, Lucas Sims, is just 19 years old and hasn't pitched above Single-A. Their second best prospect, J.R. Graham, is 24 but has only reached Double-A due to an injury shortened 2013 season.
Adding to the Braves' problems is the fact Santana will cost them $14 million this season. That puts their payroll at about $110 million, or $20 million more than it was last year. The original plan set by ownership was to spend $100 million this season. That leaves little room for another free agent.
If the Braves were to try and trade for, say, a David Price or Jeff Samardzija, it would likely flush their farm system of its most talented prospects. Knowing Atlanta's usual commitment to grooming homegrown talent, that would seem unlikely. Also, they would have to pay either one a lot of money to keep them once their contracts run out.
Last season the Braves had the best team ERA in the majors at 3.18 and the year before they ranked fifth at 3.42. As far as rotations go, the Braves were fifth-best in 2013 with a 3.51 ERA and seventh in 2012 at 3.75. Pitching has been a big reason for their recent success, and a strong bullpen can only take you so far.
The Braves' starting rotation could work out just fine, you never know. Right now it just doesn't look very promising.