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Hirsh: Santana signing shows Braves' commitment
FCN SANTANAmct 031214 web
The Atlanta Braves signed free agent pitcher Ervin Santana to a one-year contract just days after dealing with injuries to starting pitchers Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen. - photo by MCT

By committing more than $200 million this offseason to homegrown talent, Atlanta Braves general manager Frank Wren and CEO Terry McGuirk proved these are no longer the overly-frugal, trigger-shy Braves of old.

On Wednesday, they further solidified that notion.

With Kris Medlen likely out for all of 2014 and Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor dealing with ailments of their own, Atlanta needed to find a way to stabilize what has become an injury-riddled pitching staff. That was accomplished by signing 31-year-old Ervin Santana to a one-year, $14.1 million deal.

Santana is coming off one of the best seasons of his career in which he posted a 3.24 ERA, 161 strikeouts and 23 quality starts (six or more innings and three earned runs allowed or fewer)—good for fourth in the American League. On the other hand, he was highly ineffective in 2012, when his inflated 5.16 ERA and -1.5 WAR (wins above replacement) brought an end to his eight-year tenure with the Angels.

So the Braves don’t exactly know what they’re going to get out of Santana. He could be an apt replacement for Medlen, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he falls far short of expectations.

Regardless, this was a move Atlanta brass felt it had to make.

"In light of what has happened over the past few days with our pitching staff, we felt it was incumbent on us to do everything we could to strengthen our starting pitching," Wren said in a press conference. "Throughout the winter, we didn't feel like we were going to be in this market. But we felt Ervin was the No. 1 guy in the market. We've always felt if we were going to go out there, we would love to have him."

In terms of cost versus production, the Braves are overpaying for Santana’s services—there’s no denying that. The kind of money they’re giving him is better spent on a reliable, top-of-the-rotation guy who can produce All Star-caliber numbers. Santana, who has been erratic throughout his career, probably won’t be able to accomplish that.

But given the circumstances and the available options, this was the right decision for a team that expects to win its second consecutive division title. Perhaps more importantly, it signifies an enriched commitment to winning.

Santana’s salary will put the Braves roughly $20 million above last year’s payroll and far ahead of what the team planned on spending in 2014. While it’s easy to dub this as a desperation move, it also shows that Liberty Media is willing to go the extra mile to achieve short-term success.

This kind of action has not been seen in these parts since the Ted Turner days.

“The payroll, we’ve kind of blown that out,” Wren said. “It’s a big commitment … It’s an extraordinary commitment, and it does exceed our budget by a great deal, but the player is worth it.”

This sends a tremendous message to the clubhouse and fan base: while the Braves are built for the long haul, they aren’t afraid to do what it takes to win now—even if it means over-paying for what will essentially be a Band-Aid.

Wren added that it was an “incredible decision” by ownership to green-light this contract, and that it only took Liberty Media an hour to approve the finances involved here.

Incredible, yes—and pleasantly surprising, as well.

“We’re not in a rebuilding mode. We’re in a winning mode,” McGuirk said at the press conference. “And we’re standing in this clubhouse right now with a bunch of winners around us. We think that the time is now … We have been in a rebuilding mode going with you, going back four or five years. But that youth has all arrived.

“If you were in our spot, you would do the same thing. It’s the right time.”