When Brandon Beachy shut out the Marlins on May 17 last season, the world was a different place. Josh Hamilton was the best hitter alive, the A's were a rebuilding team unburdened with expectations, and the Dodgers had the best record in baseball. Beachy's shutout moved the Braves 3½ games ahead of the still-expected-to-be-good Marlins, and he moved to 5-1 with a 1.33 ERA. He looked he was going to start the All-Star game.
Beachy never did start that All-Star Game, having elbow surgery instead. And 13 months later, he's back, which gives the Braves one of those pleasant dilemmas. They have too much pitching. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Beachy is a proven high-quality starter who appears fully recovered from reconstructive elbow surgery, but the current five-man rotation is on a roll and finally has all engines humming at once.
Barring an unlikely move to a seldom-seen six-man starting rotation, the Braves have to move someone to the bullpen or make a trade, unless there’s an injury in the next week or two.
"I don’t know — that’s my honest-to-God answer," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Sunday.
Everyone in the Braves' rotation is pitching well, but Beachy is almost ready, and he has just one rehab start left. So unless the Braves move to a six-man rotation, they're going to put a quality starting pitcher in the bullpen, which makes them something like Chevy Chase in this scene. There's no right answer, really. So let's be wrong together. The Braves' options:
Option 1: Keep Brandon Beachy in the bullpen for the rest of the season, or until a vacancy opens up.
Beachy might be flashing quality stuff in the minors, but he's still just a year removed from Tommy John surgery, and it might make sense to build up his stamina as a long reliever. Pretend he's a prospect on the Earl Weaver plan, and stretch him out slowly rather than expect sustained greatness right away.
Option 2: Demote Julio Teheran.
This would have been the obvious move in April, but Teheran has been magnificent since then. He allowed three runners in his last start, pitching eight innings and striking out 11. He might be the Braves' best starter right now. He's not going anywhere.
Option 3: Remove Paul Maholm from the rotation
Couple things could be true here: a) Maholm could be one of the more underrated starting pitchers in baseball, which is a title he's held for the last three years or so, and b) Maholm might be the sixth-best starter on the Braves. He doesn't have the top-of-the-rotation upside of Beachy or Teheran; he's a safe pick, and he's not going to hurt a team or make them look silly. He's kind of the rich man's Barry Zito. The Barry Zito's Barry Zito.
Option 4: Put Kris Medlen back in the bullpen.
He has the experience, after all. But after some control problems early in the year, Medlen's his old self. He's allowed more than three earned runs in just one of his 25 starts since the start of last season. He's not going anywhere.
Option 5: Remove Tim Hudson from the rotation.
Hudson has been the least effective starter for the Braves this season but, stop me if you've heard this one, he's been pitching well lately. His peripherals are all in line with what you'd expect, and it's extremely unlikely that the Braves give up on him after nine years because there's a roster crunch now. If it's unlikely for the Braves to pull Maholm from the rotation, it's even unlikelier for them to do it with Hudson, especially when he's pitching well.
Option 6: Trade a pitcher
So the team that started 2012 with eight viable rotation candidates but ended up relying on a reanimated Ben Sheets is suddenly going to trade rotation depth because they have too many pitchers? Probably not.
Option 7: Six-man rotation
I can't think of a super-compelling argument against it, but it seems pretty unlikely.
There you go. The Braves are facing a Sophie's Choice, but instead of something about dying kids, it's more analogous to menu options at a four-star restaurant. If I had to rank the options in order, it would go something like this:
1. Beachy in the bullpen
2. Maholm out
3. Teheran out
4. Hudson out
5. Medlen in the bullpen
6. Six-man rotation
You'll note that demoting Mike Minor wasn't even considered for obvious reasons. At the end of May last year, Minor had a 6.98 ERA after allowing 13 home runs in 58 innings. Now he's the ace of the staff. Which supports the point from the opening up there. A year is a long, long time when it comes to baseball-related developments.
So while Beachy was the Braves' best starter a year ago, there's almost no way to argue that the Braves should rejigger the rotation to get him back in. Beachy is almost back, but it'll take an injury or a pitching slump to get him back in the rotation. Unless the Braves are planning to shock the world, that is.