Depth is one of the more underrated aspects of roster building. The minor league signings with spring training invites don't get the same attention as the blockbuster trades or major free agent signings, and for good reason. Minor league signings don't hold the same value. But they do hold value over the course of a season, and for that, they are important.
Teams need depth to get through 162 games in a season. Injuries can accumulate, and players can have down years and a competitive team needs to pick up the slack. It's not rocket science that teams need backup players capable of filling in while not losing too much value.
This means even more on pitching staffs. Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus said as much in today's analysis of the Matt Garza signing: "Pitching is so, so perilous." Arms can fall apart quickly and out of nowhere. Teams need pitching depth to get through these issues, which is why signing six or seven capable major league arms is not uncommon.
The Braves re-signed Freddy Garcia today to a minor league deal with a spring invite. The deal can be worth $1.25 million if Garcia makes the team out of spring training, and he can double it based on incentives if he starts. If he's not on the big league roster by March 25, he can opt out, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post.
This means the Braves have eight pitchers they can turn to for extended time in the majors, based on previous experience. The current rotation sets up as Mike Minor, Kris Medlen, Julio Teheran, Brandon Beachy and Alex Wood. The rest are Garcia, Gavin Floyd and David Hale. Floyd is expected to be ready within a couple months, which could push a current starter out of the rotation, with Wood being the popular choice right now.
The signings of Floyd and Garcia, and having Hale in Triple-A, shouldn't be taken lightly. History, as well as common baseball sense, tells us so.
In 2013, the Braves used 22 starts from pitchers not among the top five starters. Tim Hudson's ankle injury was a large reason for this, as he only made 21 starts and allowed Wood to record 11. But both Hudson and Beachy went down and required depth to step up, which Wood, Garcia and Hale did. It worked out well for the Braves.
In 2012, the Braves received double-digit starts from eight starters. Jair Jurrjens struggled his way out of the rotation after 10 starts, and Beachy was cut down early because of elbow pain, but a combination of Medlen and Ben Sheets helped alleviate concerns. The Braves also acquired Paul Maholm to add more to the rotation down the stretch. The result was 43 total starts from pitchers who weren't considered the main five at the beginning of the season.
In 2011, the Braves filled the last two spots in the rotation by revolving Beachy, Minor and Tommy Hanson. Six starters threw at least 80 innings, and Cristhian Martinez did his part by throwing 77 innings out of the bullpen.
This is just to show that extra starters are necessary over the course of a season, and it's good that the Braves understand and act on this. Scrambling to fill rotation spots after injuries can hurt a team, and it's something Atlanta has avoided for the most part.
This year, the Braves appear to be in great shape when it comes to extra starters. If any starter doesn't work out before Floyd returns, Garcia and Hale are ready. If Floyd returns healthy, (probably) Wood, Garcia and Hale are ready. Regardless of what happens, Garcia and Hale are ready, and both are arms I have no problem turning to for starts in a pinch.
You're likely to see all the above names at some point this season, and that's fine for the Braves. It means they understand the importance of depth.