OK, we've obviously discovered that the new park and new TV revenues (both national and re-worked regional deals) have vaulted the likely payroll moving forward back into the range of the good old days when Ted was writing checks. The organization still has to stay "on its game" and pinch pennies wherever possible to remain competitive with much larger markets and their larger TV deals. Wren & Company simply can't afford mistakes that approach the Uggla and B. J. stratospheres if there's ANY chance that the recent extensions eventually pay off. That said, there are going to be a couple of choices that HAVE to be made this winter that are likely going to upset some fans.
One in particular is that you have to continue to do what you can to assist Kris Medlen in his recovery and monitor his progress closely, but when the time comes Wren's going to have to tell him that he's going to be non-tendered and needs to establish his market BEFORE the organization can make a decision about bringing him back. You likely have to do the same thing with Brandon Beachy.
Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, and Alex Wood are pretty close to the "no-brainers" in the 2015 rotation. David Hale is obviously a candidate. Then you have Cody Martin, J. R. Graham, Aaron Northcraft, and Jason Hursh within reach. You've got Wes Parsons, Lucas Sims, and Mauricio Cabrera a little deeper, followed by Yean Carlos Gil and Andy Otero in Rome. You've even got Andry Ubiera, Yeralf Torres, and Luis Barrios as big upside kids in the rookie leagues plus anyone selected in the draft in a few weeks.
Retaining Ervin Santana will likely cost in the neighborhood of $16-$17 million per year, meaning he can be kept without adversely affecting the budget when you consider that Wood will replace one of Gavin Floyd or Aaron Harang in the rotation for good in 2015. Assuming the other various 2015 roster replacements (Christian Bethancourt replacing Gerald Laird, Todd Cunningham replacing Jordan Schafer, Joey Terdoslavich replacing Ryan Doumit), the money to keep Santana is there without making any significant moves other than letting Harang move on. That gets you to 4 of the 5 spots spoken for, and leaves you with calls to make on Floyd, Medlen, and Beachy. Given the likelihood that B. J. and Uggla are on the 2015 roster as sunk costs (or elsewhere still costing the organization significant dollars to play for someone else), there's no chance that all three of them are kept around.
I was entirely against tying up 2014 payroll in retaining Jonny Venters or Eric O'Flaherty coming off of their second Tommy John Surgeries, and Venters' setback when throwing batting practice last Wednesday is exactly the reason I referenced at the time. (O'Flaherty signed with Oakland, and has yet to make it back either.) While the numbers detailing Pitchers attempting comebacks from a second ligament transplant procedure aren't overwhelming for serious stats guys who want to see huge sample sizes before they're convinced that any course of action is the "best one", many of the surgeons have been quoted as saying that's simply because many Pitchers facing a second operation simply call it a career rather than attempting the long and taxing rehab process. The chances for a successful return to anything approaching previous performance following a second procedure are significantly lower than the first even though there isn't the volume of evidence. Venters is making $2,300,000 this season, and while that isn't a substantial amount of money in MLB these days, it's still a lot to have (especially for a reliever) on top of the other "dead money" you have tied up in Upton ($13,450,000), Uggla ($12,500,000), and Medlen ($5,800,000).
Braves Nation LOVES Kris Medlen and wants nothing more than for him to return to be a successful Pitcher - and it would be terribly painful to see that happen elsewhere - but that's not the type of gamble Wren & Company can make this offseason if they want to be a contender next year. Non-tendering Medlen and Beachy gives you a minimum of $6,700,000 to spend on the fifth Pitcher in the 2015 rotation. If Floyd is non-tendered, that number becomes $10,700,000. If Floyd continues a return to health and maintains his current production, he can likely be retained for that number, and you'd also have potential free-agent options such as Chad Billingsley, Jason Hammel, and Colby Lewis available in that price range. If there's more money available to spend next season (or the unlikely scenario that another team is willing to take on $5 million or more of Uggla or Upton's salaries) and the money offered in incentives to Floyd this season is also available, then the available potential free-agent list includes names like James Shields, Justin Masterson, and Yovani Gallardo.
Unfortunately the Braves simply can't commit +/- $6 million to Medlen in the HOPE that he somehow beats the odds no matter how much their fans would love to see him do it in a Braves uniform - however, if he tests the market and finds out that other teams aren't willing to give him a multi-year commitment for significant dollars, he'll be welcomed back to compete for a spot on the staff (even if it's as a reliever).