Tuesday marked the deadline in Major League Baseball for teams to tender contracts to their arbitration eligible players. Teams can choose to non tender players if they believe they aren’t worth the money that the player could receive through the arbitration process. If a player is non-tendered, he becomes a free agent able to sign with any organization. One of the most notable non-tenders of the day was the now former Atlanta Brave Kris Medlen.
Kris Medlen, 29, was drafted in the 10th round by the Braves in 2006 from Santa Ana College. Medlen reached the majors in 2009, and has accrued 5.137 years of Major League service. During that time, he has put together a stellar career 2.95 ERA and 3.23 FIP over 512.2 innings. Kris isn’t without his baggage, however.
Medlen had his first Tommy John procedure in late 2010, causing him to miss the entire 2011 season. Following two successful seasons in 2012 and 2013, Kris left a spring training game in 2014 with soreness in his elbow. The result was a second Tommy John surgery, causing him to miss the entire 2014 season. Medlen made $5.8 mil last year, and given that he isn’t scheduled to return until around the All Star break, a non-tender of Medlen was hardly surprising.
Also unsurprisingly, the Braves have been rumored to be interested in bringing back Kris, potentially on a two year deal. They figure to have some competition for his services, and if the Brewers are wise, they would do their best to sign Medlen.
Two year deals for players coming off injuries are not all that uncommon in baseball. This past September, the Rays signed reliever Neil Wagner to a two year, minor league contract. Wagner, like Medlen, will miss significant time in 2015 recovering from Tommy John surgery. What are less common are players returning from a second Tommy John. Brian Wilson had his second procedure in 2012; he pitched effectively for the Dodgers in the second half of 2013 before regressing badly last season. Chris Capuano had his second procedure in 2008; he was roughly the same pitcher in the seasons following as he had been following his first surgery.
If Medlen can return to his pre-surgery form from 2012 and 2013, the Brewers would be getting a potentially dominant player. Upon returning from his first procedure, Kris posted a stellar 1.57 ERA and 2.48 FIP in 138 innings, working 38 games from the bullpen and making twelve awe inspiring starts during which time he went 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA. He followed that up in 2013 with a 3.11 ERA and 3.48 FIP in a career high 197 innings across 31 starts. Despite a fastball that is nearly two MPH slower than his peak, Medlen has maintained a consistent rate of around 7.0 k/9, and is an excellent control pitcher with a career 2.12 BB/9 rate. He is tremendous at getting ahead of hitters with a 64.2% career first pitch strike rate. He finishes batters with his changeup, which has held opposing hitters to a .176/.214/.285 slash with a 34% strikeout rate.
Though Medlen will be out until at least the All Star break, he still makes sense as an addition to the Brewers. Should the Brewers find themselves in a pennant race, Medlen could be a valuable presence in the bullpen for the stretch run if he gets healthy. In 132.2 career innings as a reliever, he has posted a 2.92 ERA with a 2.82 FIP with only a 0.41 HR/9 rate. Combined with Will Smith, Jeremy Jeffress, and Johnathon Broxton, the Brewers could have themselves a lockdown bullpen to shorten games. Just as easily, the Brewers could falter and become sellers at the deadline; should the rebuilding process begin in 2015, Medlen could step in to fill a spot vacated by a trade. Regardless, Kyle Lohse and Yovani Gallardo will become free agents after 2015, leaving openings in the rotation that Medlen could step into in 2016.
Given his strong track record and tantalizing potential, Medlen could be a hot commodity as a free agent. Ideally, the Brewers would bring in Kris on a one year deal with an option. This guarantees Medlen money while he is recovering but limits the risk should he not get back to health going into 2016. While it is fair to assume that he could take a pay cut from his $5.8 mil salary from last year, it may not necessarily be a large one. While that may seem like a large guarantee to give to a pitcher coming off his second major surgery, it could be well worth it if it allows the Brewers to lock him up on an option what could be a bargain rate. A one year deal worth $4.5 mil with a team option of $8 million for 2016 could be enough to bring Kris Medlen to Milwaukee. It may seem risky to invest in an oft-injured pitcher, but the upside of a career 132 ERA+ is too good for a team like the Brewers to pass up. If Medlen returns to form, he could be a home run for small market Milwaukee.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Reference