ATLANTA — The Braves haven’t been able to acquire the ace they might have wanted for the top of their rotation, but they secured the depth they needed Monday with the signing of free agent right-hander Gavin Floyd.
The Braves signed Floyd to a one-year $4 million deal, with an additional $4.5 million in incentives.
Floyd, 30, is seven months removed from Tommy John surgery and the Braves project that he could be back as early as a month or so into the season. He passed his physical in Atlanta on Monday before the deal was finalized.
“We think if everything goes well, he should leave spring training ready to go out on injury rehab to start the buildup,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said Monday, after taking Floyd out to lunch.
Floyd averaged 12 wins per season for five years with the Chicago White Sox before last season, when he went 0-4 with a 5.18 ERA and underwent season-ending elbow surgery on May 7. He is 70-70 with a 4.48 ERA overall in 10 seasons with the Phillies and White Sox.
He gives the Braves some depth and a veteran presence they were seeking for their rotation after losing Tim Hudson to free agency. Floyd, a former first-round pick (No. 4 overall) of the Phillies in 2001, had his best season in 2008, going 17-8 with a 3.84 ERA for the AL Central champion White Sox.
When healthy, he features a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a dominant curveball.
“We think his stuff equates to a guy that can be a solid middle of the rotation starter,” Wren said.
Floyd said he spoke with several teams during the winter meetings, his hometown Orioles reportedly among them, and the Braves felt like the best fit.
“It just seemed like a lot of arrows were pointing to Atlanta,” Floyd said. “And it felt good for the family, it felt good for me, felt good for my wife. I like the fact that they’re always a competitive team, always in the hunt and have a good pitching coach and a good ballpark to pitch in and it seemed like I could have an impact. I hope that will happen sooner than later.”
Floyd’s surgery, performed last May by Dr. David Altcheck, repaired tears in both his ulnar collateral ligament and his flexor tendon. Reports at the time suggested he might need more than the typical 12-month timetable for his recovery.
Wren said the Braves were given the notes from Floyd’s most recent visit to Altcheck, who Wren said originally projected Floyd could be back by Opening Day. Wren said the Braves medical staff is pleased his progress. He’s throwing from 180 feet on flat ground and is scheduled to begin throwing off the front of the mound within the next week.
Floyd didn’t sound quite as convinced of a given timetable but said his arm is feeling “tremendous.”
“I have to realize I’ve never been through this,” Floyd said. “I have to realize this is all new to me. The Atlanta Braves know and have experience with (Tommy John) guys and know different guys heal differently. It’s all to be announced. I don’t know if there’re going to be any setbacks. Today, I’ve got to throw when I get back home, see what happens and progress from there.”
The Braves rotation shapes up with returning starters Kris Medlen, Julio Teheran, Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy, with young pitchers Alex Wood or David Hale vying for that fifth spot. One of the younger pitchers could move to the bullpen when Floyd is ready to pitch.
“I think it’s a perfect situation for us because we get a chance to let one of our young guys get his feet wet and have a bit of a backstop for him,” Wren said.
The Braves had set out looking for a top-of-the-rotation caliber pitcher this offseason but downshifted when prices on the free agent market soared (38-year-old Hudson got two years and $23 million from the Giants, 40-year-old Bartolo Colon signed with the Mets for two years and $20 million.)
The trade market has proved expensive too, in terms of prospects, and the Braves aren’t willing to cash in the top pitching prospects that teams are asking for in exchange for pitchers like David Price and Jeff Samardzija. The Braves had expressed interest in Samardzija, the Cubs power pitcher, but such a move isn’t likely now.
“I don’t think that we’re going to be actively pursuing starters at this point,” Wren said. “You never stop trying to get better, but we do feel like we filled a major need in adding addition depth to our rotation.”