It was reported Saturday by ESPN Deportes reporter Enrique Rojas (via MLB Trade Rumors) that the Toronto Blue Jays are one of the two finalists still in play for free-agent pitcher Ervin Santana. The field looked like it was initially going to come down to the Blue Jays and the Baltimore Orioles.
CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reported again today that the Orioles and the Blue Jays still look like the front-runners in the Santana hunt, mostly because they are both willing to sign the pitcher to a one-year deal. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Braves are mentioned in this tweet by the Atlanta Journal Constitution's David O'Brien as another team potentially chasing Santana.
While the Blue Jays should be aggressive in acquiring talent in order to compete in the AL East, they should pass on a one-year deal for the 31-year-old Santana if that's all he is willing to sign.
The reason? Leverage. Santana is without a contract and has limited options as this point in mid-March. If the Blue Jays are going to sign Santana, they should do it only if it suits them on their terms. A one-year deal for Santana really doesn't help the Blue Jays in the short-term.
The Blue Jays are not a playoff team, even if they add Santana. Last season, Toronto won 74 games in the ultra-competitive AL East. Adding Santana and expecting improved health from the rest of the pitching staff makes a run at winning 80 games realistic for this season. Expecting anything more is just pipe dreaming at this point.
Santana is the type of pitcher you add when you have a hole in your rotation that you are trying to fill in order to contend. While he would make perfect sense for the Orioles, Braves and Kansas City Royals, the Blue Jays are unlikely to contend for a playoff spot, with or without Santana.
In 2013, Santana was excellent with the Royals. Other than his 9-10 record, he was a top-tier starter registering a 3.24 ERA and a 1.142 WHIP while pitching 211 innings. Although he was inconsistent while pitching for the Los Angeles Angels, he still amassed a 96-80 record.
Toronto should have been far more aggressive at the beginning of free agency with the knowledge that both of their first-round draft picks this season were protected in the upcoming 2014 MLB draft. The Blue Jays should have targeted one of the top four pitchers in free agency, whether that was Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez or Matt Garza.
Even the second-tier group of starters would have provided the Blue Jays with some depth, whether spending on a veteran like Tim Hudson or Bartolo Colon or bringing in a lefty like Paul Maholm or Scott Kazmir.
By sitting out the majority of the free agent period, Toronto missed out on making the necessary changes needed to improve the ballclub. Again, the Blue Jays are spending money with this season's projected payroll of $132.6 million going into this season but still have major question marks all through the team's rotation and bullpen. Spending $19 million on Mark Buehrle is a prime example of this.
Toronto's projected rotation to start this season will likely be made up of R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Buehrle and J.A. Happ with the fifth spot in the rotation looking like it might be up for grabs. Those top four starters combined for only 33 wins last season while the Blue Jays were 12th in ERA in the American League. Even with the expected recovery of Morrow and Happ from injury, it still is hard to project this rotation as any great advantage.
The hope for Toronto is that the team's minor league pitching prospects continue to develop and start to press for jobs at the major league level. Of the team's top 20 prospects, the top six are all pitchers, including intriguing high-end arms like Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez. Righty Drew Hutchison is another pitcher to watch as he continues his recovery from Tommy John surgery.
If the Blue Jays are going to bring Santana in at this point, it needs to be with the long-term view of competing over the next three seasons, building a rotation around him and the younger prospects that are coming.
Before this season has even started, the Blue Jays look like they will be sellers at the deadline, trading off pieces like Dickey, Buehrle, Jose Bautista and Colby Rasmus.