Ervin Santana: A Potential Bargain for Pitching-Starved MLB Teams

Ben Berkon@benberkonContributor IMarch 9, 2014

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At the same point last offseason, starting pitcher Kyle Lohse was still a free agent. In fact, it would take until March 25 for Lohse to finally sign a contract with the Milwaukee Brewers. But unlike Lohse, who too wore the rejected-qualifying offer Scarlet Letter, current free agent Ervin Santana has apparently waved the white flag in his pursuit of a multiyear deal.

According to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, the 31-year-old is eager to sign with a team and get to spring training—even at the cost of a lucrative, long-term contract. Aside from how most teams would forfeit an unprotected first-round pick to sign the right-hander, the sheer opportunity to sign a free-agent pitcher of Santana’s caliber to a one-year deal instantly makes him a bargain. 

Santana enjoyed a productive season for the Kansas City Royals in 2013, posting a 3.24 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 127 ERA+), 1.14 WHIP and 3.16 K/BB. And compared to many of the offseason’s top earners, the Dominican Republic native’s past three seasons look rather similar. 

But with two recent sub-90 ERA+ seasons—an 87 and 74 ERA+ in 2009 and 2012, respectively—it’s possible his career inconsistencies hurt his value. 

Yet by that very logic, Ubaldo Jimenez, 30, should still be a free agent too. Instead, the Baltimore Orioles inked the power righty to a four-year, $50 million contract on February 19.

Like Santana, prospective suitors of Jimenez too would have pawned their unprotected first-round pick. The Orioles, however, like so many other MLB teams, seemed to prefer similar and outright inferior pitchers to Santana, regardless of qualifying offer status.

Teams’ apparent unwillingness to recognize Santana’s value, given the above long list of comparables, is a bit befuddling. Even though no mainstream system projects Santana to be an ace in 2014, the hurler would undoubtedly improve most rotations in baseball.

Despite initial rumors that the Santana agreed to terms with the Blue Jays on a one-year deal, per ESPN’s Dionisio Soldevila, the former Los Angeles Angels’ farmhand is actually still available, per ESPN’s Enrique Rojas.

Inking Santana on a one-year, $14 million contract would instantly propel a team’s playoffs chances—without the risk of any latter, contractual-year commitments. And while Santana’s late-offseason desperation might serve as a boilerplate for the argument against the current collective bargaining agreement, any team would be completely misguided to not pursue a bargain like Santana.

ERA+ sourced from Baseball Reference. Steamer, Oliver and ZiPS projections sourced from FanGraphs.

All contract information sourced from Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

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