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  • Free Agent Pitcher Profile: Ervin Santana

    The Royals took a gamble last offseason when they traded for Ervin Santana, who was coming off an ugly season in Anaheim where he went 9-13 with a 5.16 ERA while coughing up a league-leading 39 home runs. Kansas City didn't have to give up much in the deal, but they did take on a $12 million commitment to a pitcher in the wake of a poor season. For a club that's hardly been known for aggressive, win-now type moves, the splash certainly drew some attention (especially in combination with the blockbuster James Shields trade).

    The Royals ended up with their highest win total (86) since 1989 this season, and Santana played a big part, bouncing back in a major way to post a 3.24 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over 211 innings. Considering that the right-hander had preceded his 2012 clunker with strong seasons in both 2011 and 2010, his down year looks like the outlier. As a 30-year-old with a recent record of success and the ability to miss some bats, Santana is arguably the top starting pitcher openly available this winter outside of Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka.

    Are the Twins prepared to become involved in what is sure to be a competitive market with the hopes of once again adding a Santana to the top of their rotation? Let's take a look at the pros and cons.

    Why Does He Fit?


    On a basic level, the problem with Twins pitching these days is quite obvious: they allow way too many hits. As a staff in 2013, they allowed the most knocks of any MLB team (1,591) and among the 11 pitchers that made at least one start for Minnesota, nine allowed an average of more than 10.0 hits per nine innings. To put that in some context, the American League average for H/9IP was 8.8 and only four qualifying pitchers finished the season with a mark of 10.0 or above.

    Santana would be a refreshing change of pace. His career H/9IP rate is 8.7 and he hasn't allowed more than a hit per inning since 2009. Even in 2012, when he struggled, Santana held opponents to a .238 batting average and registered a solid 1.27 WHIP; his disappointing results were largely tied to an absurdly high home run rate that was mostly out of line with the rest of his career, and almost surely wouldn't be repeated at Target Field.

    While he had a few elbow issues crop up in 2012 (another part of the reason Kansas City took a risk in acquiring him) he's mostly been injury-free since 2009, averaging 32 starts and 210 innings per season.

    Why Doesn't He Fit?

    Well, cost is going to be the main factor. I'm willing to believe that Terry Ryan and the Twins are prepared loosen the purse strings for a guy they really like, but even as a strong fit Santana may have priced himself out of their range with an outstanding season in KC. Since he carries fewer question marks than fellow top free agent talents such as Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez and Phil Hughes, Santana could be the most coveted option for clubs seeking reliable help at the top of the rotation (and looking to avoid the Tanaka sweepstakes). That means he may be looking at a contract approaching (or even exceeding) $100 million.

    Other than his price tag, it's tough to name a reason the Twins shouldn't at least pursue Santana. He's largely been a very good pitcher in recent years, he's reasonably young, he throws hard with good command and he's been quite durable. He's probably not going to be an "ace" in the traditional sense, but he might be the closest thing you'll find on this year's market. He's a safer bet than most of the alternatives.

    What Will He Cost?

    Offseason Handbook estimate: five years, $80 million. As always, the contract could easily prove larger since we can't really anticipate how much the new revenues will inflate the market, but I have a hard time believing he'll get less than that. Santana is coming off a career year and has a more consistently strong recent MLB track record than any of his free agent peers.
    This article was originally published in blog: Free Agent Pitcher Profile: Ervin Santana started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 13 Comments
    1. pierre75275's Avatar
      pierre75275 -
      Even at the cost he is much cheaper then Tanaka. I think the twins really need him. And then they need at least one of Kazmir Jimenez, Haren, Johnson
    1. Brandon's Avatar
      Brandon -
      I hope the Twins go after either Santana or Ubaldo. I am getting worried that the Twins will just sign Pelfry and Yoon and call it a day keeping the financial commitment to a minimum.
    1. SpitefulRabbit617's Avatar
      SpitefulRabbit617 -
      The Twin Cities needs the Twin Santanas this offseason. Johan and Ervin. Then throw in Haren or someone.
    1. acrozelle's Avatar
      acrozelle -
      This is the one pitcher that I would really like the Twins to pursue and I would be ecstatic if they sign him. I know he is going to be pricey, but I think he would be worth it. I wouldn't be mad if the Twins even overpay a little bit just to ensure they land him. Like Nick said, overall Santana has been pretty consistent, and I think it's been stated over a million times on this site that the Twins need a consistent presence in the rotation that they can actually count on every 5th day. Santana can provide that.

      That being said, I would be shocked if the Twins actually dished out the money required to sign him.
    1. TopGunn#22's Avatar
      TopGunn#22 -
      After last season's major disappointment, I'll believe it when I see it when it comes to Terry Ryan and Dave St. Peter & Co. E. Santana makes waaay too much sense and fits waaay to well into the void we call our starting rotation. You have to be "somewhat" sensible, but the last thing the Twins FO should be concerned about is cost.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Ervin Santana is very interesting -- I didn't immediately think of him as a front-line guy, but he's been pretty good and also he's been very durable -- not just starts, but also innings (almost 30 more innings than Ubaldo Jimenez last year, in the same number of starts). I wish the Twins would have nabbed him last year.

      Santana's K rate, while it would look great on the Twins, didn't go up last year, as compared to Jimenez and Sanchez who both saw huge K rate jumps pitching in the same division. Should that be a concern?
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Ervin's birth name was Johan. FYI.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quick thing:

      Santana's three full seasons of badness have been when his homer rate jump a bunch. His career average is 1.2 per nine. It was 1.6, 1.5, and 2.0 in those three seasons. The hit rate went up too, of course, but some of that is obviously the long ball.

      It is interesting to consider TF for him, then.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by spycake View Post
      Santana's K rate, while it would look great on the Twins, didn't go up last year, as compared to Jimenez and Sanchez who both saw huge K rate jumps pitching in the same division. Should that be a concern?
      Devil's advocate:
      this is the same division the Twins are playing. The Twins saw huge increase in hitters striking out; 1430 in 2013 from 1069 in 2012. Chicken or egg type of situation, but I don't think that these 2 things are unrelated...
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      Quick thing:

      Santana's three full seasons of badness have been when his homer rate jump a bunch. His career average is 1.2 per nine. It was 1.6, 1.5, and 2.0 in those three seasons. The hit rate went up too, of course, but some of that is obviously the long ball.

      It is interesting to consider TF for him, then.
      This is what common sense might indicate. On the other hand, check out the Twins' SP HR/FB ratio. For several it is up in the 14-15 range, which is close to where his were in his bad years. This number should really be under 10. And, officially, the park factor of TF is 100 (league average) the last couple seasons.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thrylos View Post
      This is what common sense might indicate. On the other hand, check out the Twins' SP HR/FB ratio. For several it is up in the 14-15 range, which is close to where his were in his bad years. This number should really be under 10. And, officially, the park factor of TF is 100 (league average) the last couple seasons.
      Fair enough. What is Anaheim's stadium's PF?
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thrylos View Post
      Devil's advocate:
      this is the same division the Twins are playing. The Twins saw huge increase in hitters striking out; 1430 in 2013 from 1069 in 2012. Chicken or egg type of situation, but I don't think that these 2 things are unrelated...
      I understand that K's have jumped league-wide, and notably for at least one team in our division.

      That's why it seemed odd that Ervin Santana's K rate remained constant in 2013, and basically unchanged as far back as 2009. Shouldn't it have gone up, like the rest of the league?

      I recall reading that the Royals made some big changes in the last year in terms of defensive positioning -- so some of those non-K outs he recorded in 2013 could disappear if he comes to the Twins...
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thrylos View Post
      This is what common sense might indicate. On the other hand, check out the Twins' SP HR/FB ratio. For several it is up in the 14-15 range, which is close to where his were in his bad years. This number should really be under 10. And, officially, the park factor of TF is 100 (league average) the last couple seasons.
      That's OPS park factor.

      If you look at HR park factor at ESPN, Target Field has always slightly to severely favored the pitcher in terms of HR outside of 2012, when it leaned slightly to the offense:

      2013 MLB Park Factors - Home Runs - Major League Baseball - ESPN

      Of course, the Angels ballpark (and the Royals park in 2013) has similarly favored the pitcher in terms of HR.
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