The Braves could roll with Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Brandon Beachy, Alex Wood and perhaps David Hale next season and be fine. They wouldn't lead the National League in shutouts, strikeouts or ERA, but they'd be fine. That's a good enough rotation to at least contend for the playoffs assuming the lineup hits like it should and the bullpen keeps being amazing.
But the Braves don't need to just be fine right now. They need to go for it.
With the club's window to win closing within the next three years, it's win-now time for Frank Wren and the front office. Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel and a couple of other guys are going to get pretty expensive pretty soon here, and the Braves aren't going to be able to re-sign many of them, if any.
That's why the Braves need to make a win-now move and trade for Jeff Samardzija.
If you take a quick look at his career numbers and his line from 2013, he's not very impressive. He's got a career 4.19 ERA after posting a 4.34 ERA this past season, and he's never been more than a 3-WAR player despite coming up to the big leagues in 2008 as a reliever.
Dig a little deeper, though, and you find a guy who would be a terrific fit with Atlanta.
Since becoming a full-time starter in 2012, Samardzija's got an xFIP of 3.42 over 388 innings. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is nearly 3-1, striking out 24.1 percent of the batters he faces. That ranks as the 12th-best strikeout rate in all of baseball during that two-year stretch, putting him just behind the likes of Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez and others.
Those are borderline ace-like numbers. Granted he does rank in the bottom-third of 73 qualified pitchers with a 8.2 BB%, but given the way Roger McDowell magically waves his wand and makes Braves pitchers stop walking people, I have faith he could get that down a tick or two. Hell, if he could make Kimbrel's walks disappear, he could at least cut down Samardzija's enough to make him a really good No. 2 starter.
One of the big reasons why Samardzija's numbers in 2013 were bad was because his HR/FB rate was 13.3 percent. That would make sense, though, as Wrigley Field played as the second-most hitter-friendly park in baseball last year. It also ranked 11th in terms of home run expectancy, seven slots worse than Turner Field*. Those numbers should balance out over the long run.
*RIP Turner Field in a couple of years.
And finally, you have to consider the human element in all of this. I'm a firm believer in that having something to actually play for makes a player perform better. Samardzija is yet to have a season in Chicago where the Cubs weren't out of the playoff race by July. Maybe that has an effect on him, maybe it doesn't, but you can't tell me it would be easy to bust your ass every day in the weight room, in the training room and on the field when the team is 30 games below .500. That mentally wears on you.
So what about the Cubs' end of this deal? Looking at John Sickels' top-20 rankings from last year, the Cubs have some talent, but they're all hitters. What they lack are pitching prospects.
Wait, what's that?
The Braves have a bunch of promising pitching prospects in their system?
Hey, they should make a deal!
Now I'm not going to pretend like I know what Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein would want in return for Samardzija, but I can't imagine it would be a king's ransom. Granted they won't just give him away for pennies on the dollar coming off a pretty rough season, but it wouldn't require what it would take for the Braves to land someone like David Price. And if for some reason they would want a Price-like package for Samardzija, then the Braves simply move on. Again, it's not like they're desperate for pitching right now.
Finally, there's the money aspect of all of this. Samardzija has two more years of arbitration remaining. He only made $2.6 million in 2013, and he's probably set to earn in the neighborhood of $5-6 million in 2014. Depending on how well he pitched, he'd make somewhere in the ballpark of $8-13 million in 2015.
Even if he hits the high end of those deals, Wren would still have some money freed up to address other areas of the club. Worst case scenario is he pitches like a No. 3 starter, the Braves get fair value out of him, and once he hits free agency in 2015, the club gets draft pick compensation. Everyone wins.
I really don't see a downside to trading for Samardzija. He probably represents a 1-2 win difference over whoever is the club's fifth starter, and he could be as much as a 3-4 win improvement if he can cut down his walks. As long as the Cubs don't want something crazy in return for him, he'd be my No. 1 target this offseason.