The only thing we know with any real certainty about Gavin Floyd and the sport of baseball is that the Atlanta Braves will pay him $4 million next year. Other than that, there's no telling what he'll do. The most realistic outcome, though? Very little to nothing at all.
That's because Floyd, 30, underwent Tommy John surgery this May after a disastrously short 2013 in which he threw 24.1 innings of 5.18 ERA ball. This now-ubiquitous surgical procedure involves replacing the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow with a tendon from elsewhere in the body, and while the success rate of the surgery has risen dramatically since its early days, it still requires a 12-18 month recovery time for a major league pitcher. Players have come back earlier than that with mixed degrees of success, but generally it takes at least a full year following a successful surgery before the pitcher gets back to where he used to be on the mound.
And Gavin Floyd didn't used to be particularly special there: Over his 10 year career, Floyd has thrown 1151.1 innings of 4.48 ERA ball, which is a perfect 100 ERA+ -- exactly league average -- over that timeframe. Guys who throw precisely league average ball across a lot of innings have substantial value, even if they can be hard to watch at times; "league average" pitchers are generally roller-coaster rides, not relentlessly consistent automatons that go out and allow three to four runs in seven innings every five days. However, Floyd hasn't thrown 200 innings in a season since 2008, the best year of his career, when he had a 3.84 ERA (119 ERA+) in 206.1 IP. Floyd has been on the decline ever since.
All of this is to say that Gavin Floyd at anything less than the top of his game isn't a particularly attractive option for a MLB team, and considering the timeline of his surgery and rehab, it would almost be impossible for him to be where he needs to be health-wise to help the Braves to start the season -- in fact, it's unlikely he'll be in a position to help Atlanta before the All-Star Break. If he rushes himself, that would increase the chances he'll have setbacks that will delay his return, and if there are enough of those setbacks -- or if they're severe enough -- he might not pitch in 2014 at all.
On the whole, there are a lot of similarities between Floyd's case and that of Scott Baker with the Chicago Cubs last season. Baker was also paid guaranteed money ($5.5 million) on a one-year deal coming off an elbow injury, tried to rush himself back from it to be ready for the start of the season, and ended up drifting farther and farther down the calendar until suddenly it was September and he only had time for three starts before the season ended.
And that, like the Floyd contract, was generally considered money well spent at the time. Because that's how entirely sideways the free-agent pitching market has gone.
It's a market where even starting pitchers like Jason Vargas get four year, $32 million contracts because they're healthy and they fill a spot at the back of a rotation. In that context, $4 million suddenly seems like not so much to spend, even when it's being spent on what's essentially a luxury back-up plan -- unlike the Cubs, who weren't going to do anything in 2013 with Baker except flip him for some value at the deadline if he'd had a good first half, the Braves plan on being contenders next season. Floyd's role in Atlanta will essentially be to get healthy and be ready to step in during the second half if one of the team's primary starters falters or gets hurt, presumably so they don't have to start dealing assets on the trade market for a replacement. And for $4 million of absolute sunk-cost (Floyd's contract has playing time and roster incentives in it that could make it worth up to $8.5 million) that's not a bad safety net, all things considered.
But not too long ago, a guy like Gavin Floyd or Scott Baker wouldn't have been signed for real money -- depending on his arm health, he would've gotten either a non-roster invitation to spring training or a straight-up minor league deal until he showed in AAA that he was healthy, and then teams would start trying to poach him away unless he got promoted immediately. With the money that's coursing through the game's veins now and the insatiable demand teams have always had for starting pitching that's consistent (if not necessarily good), now more than ever it's true that all you need to make a couple million dollars on the open market is an arm with a history to it -- even if at the moment that arm isn't currently working.