Ervin Santana Accepts Qualifying Offer from Braves, Basically

Around the start of the offseason, there was talk that Nelson Cruz was after a $75-million contract. He eventually settled for $8 million. At the same time, there was talk that Ervin Santana was after a $100-million contract. He’s now settled for $14.1 million. Put those numbers together and you have $175 million requested and $22.1 million received. That difference of $153 million is the amount for which the Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury. So, that’s some perspective.

Santana reached a one-year agreement with the Braves Tuesday, and it became official early Wednesday. Over the weekend, all the talk was about how Santana would be choosing between the Orioles and the Blue Jays, but then the Braves developed a desperate need, with Kris Medlen preparing for probable Tommy John surgery. In need of a starting pitcher, the Braves signed pretty much the only available free-agent starting pitcher, and so Santana will pitch in the National League for the first time in his career. Probably, that’s a big reason why he made the decision he did.

Lately it became clear to Santana and his representation that he wasn’t going to get anywhere near the kind of contract he wanted. While he eventually lowered his demands to something like the four-year pitcher contracts we saw, things took too long to get to that point, and Santana was left as the odd man out. One of the “advantages” of remaining available into spring training is that injuries can create a sudden need, as has happened here, but Santana still wound up with a one-year commitment. The goal now is to try to build value to re-enter free agency in the fall. Also to win, but Santana wants to prove to the market that he can be both healthy and effective and that his 2013 wasn’t a fluke.

For those reasons, Atlanta’s a sensible fit. Atlanta, Baltimore, and Toronto were all offering similar amounts for one year. Right now, Atlanta has by far the highest playoff odds of the group. The Braves are looking at baseball’s second-weakest projected schedule, while the Orioles and Jays are looking at two of the three toughest. And the Braves play in a more pitcher-friendly park in the NL, which could and should be of assistance with regard to Santana’s demonstrated dinger habit.

One way of looking at this: Baltimore plays with a homer factor of 110. Toronto plays with a homer factor of 107. Atlanta plays with a homer factor of 97. Another way of looking at this: over the past five years, Orioles starters have allowed 30 homers per 200 innings. Jays starters have allowed 27. Braves starters have allowed 19. What the Braves didn’t offer Santana was the promise of more money right away. But they did offer the softest landing, which increases Santana’s longer-term earning potential. Even though everyone’s aware of park adjustments, Santana could look a lot better coming off a year in Atlanta than a year in the AL East.

Interestingly, Santana expressed that he wanted to sign soon, so he could get in camp. Had he waited to sign until after opening day, he wouldn’t have been eligible for a qualifying offer after the year. As is, he could end up right back in the same boat, in the event that he pitches well. But then, that would guarantee at least $15-16 million, and as Ubaldo Jimenez demonstrated, a decent starter can still get a good contract despite a qualifying offer provided his expectations are reasonable. In Santana’s mind, seven months from now he’ll be coming off his second consecutive strong season, which would make him more trustworthy. There’s also the chance Atlanta wouldn’t extend a qualifying offer even if Santana pitched well, due to budgetary limitations. Santana ended up with a modest deal, but there’s still some upside here for the player. There’s just more for the team than there usually is.

I got it in my head yesterday that the Braves would poke around for alternatives, rather than give up a first-round draft pick. Zach Britton, for one example, is out of options and maybe without a starting job. In retrospect, I was overthinking it. Santana was available for one year. The Braves had a definite need. The Braves are in a competitive position. And, a year from now, the Braves might well get a pick back if Santana signs somewhere else. They’ll lose, for certain, a late first-rounder, but there’s the potential for a future compensation pick, and a late first-rounder is also only a little more valuable than an early second-rounder. The obvious course was the obvious course: the Braves settled on the one guy they could get for money.

What Santana isn’t is Kris Medlen. Steamer likes Santana a little bit more, but ZiPS prefers Medlen and the Fans prefer Medlen, and Medlen’s coming off a couple years of really good pitching. But Santana’s close to that good, so if you figure Medlen is done for the season, it’s as simple as a one-for-one swap. Then the Braves are just a little bit worse than they were a week ago. And had they not done this, they would’ve dropped further in the projected standings, further away from the Nationals and closer to the heart of the Wild Card competition. Where the Braves are on the win curve, it was vital for them to replace Medlen with someone at least close to as talented.

On our playoff odds page, the Dodgers, Cardinals, and Nationals lead the way in the NL, as projected division champs. In fourth are the Braves, pre-Santana, a little ahead of the Giants and Pirates. Behind them are the Diamondbacks. Without Santana, and without Medlen, the Braves would’ve dropped into the pack. With Santana, they ought to maintain an edge, to say nothing of keeping within reach of the Nationals. Santana’s the equivalent of several percentage points of playoff probability, and though it’s less exciting for the Braves to more or less just restore what their odds were, think of this as a trip to the dentist to repair a cavity. When you’re healthy, you don’t have cavities. When you have a cavity, you can try to live with it, but it can get real bad. Getting a filling costs money, and it just makes you back into what you used to be, but you can’t focus on the zero displacement. You have to keep in mind the alternative, and the alternative is more money in your pocket and a really bad toothache.

Santana wasn’t the only way the Braves could’ve gone. But he might’ve been the best pitcher they could get without giving up prospect resources, and they’re in a position where they can win this very year. So it makes sense for them to have given Santana the equivalent of the qualifying offer, and it makes sense for Santana to go to Atlanta instead of his other options, given what those options were. If Santana pitches poorly this season, nobody wins. If Santana gets hurt this season, nobody wins. That’s why players like to go after longer-term security. But if Santana can just pitch like himself, then everyone’s a winner, and who’s more likely to pitch like Ervin Santana than Ervin Santana?




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

63 Responses to “Ervin Santana Accepts Qualifying Offer from Braves, Basically”

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  1. Max says:

    Why do people still think the Giants will be good? I have both the Pirate and Dbacks way ahead of the Giants plus the Reds!

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    • Garrett's Mom says:

      I like their snazzy uniforms.

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    • Bearman says:

      I think Lincecum and Cain rebound to some extent and Giants surprise people a bit

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    • Harper Hill says:

      Yes, and everyone always uses the Max System as the gold standard of baseball projections.

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    • bobabaloo says:

      Hmm, i thought the said Barry Bonds was coming back? I’m sure he can still get a +.500 obp with 15-20 homers. should be solid in the middle of that lineup

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      • potcircle says:

        Bonds could still outproduce Nolan Reimold, Adam Dunn, Jason Kubel, Corey Hart, Mitch Moreland, & Matt Joyce…

        Really wish he hadn’t been blackballed in the first place…

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      • bobabaloo says:

        im not sure if he was the victim or not. but he was still one of the better hitters in the league at 43 years old. i do wonder if he was still doping, that was after testing started after all. thats insane if he was clean in his last season.

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    • ABravesFan says:

      Because it’s an even year, so it’s time for another SF Giants parade.

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  2. Fred says:

    Great news for the Jays!

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    • Jason B says:

      As a Jays fan, my sentiments EXACTLY!

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      • Steve says:

        Ya phew got really nervous for you guys there for a few days that your favourite team would try and improve a huge weakness with a 1-year contract. Good thing your favorite corporation gets to keep $14M in it’s pocket with absolutely no advantage to you!

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        • Jason B says:

          Yeah, I know, I know. Still…pass.

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        • Steve says:

          apparently you don’t know

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        • Ian R. says:

          The Jays also have the eleventh overall pick, otherwise known as the highest non-protected pick. They would have forfeited that to get one year of Santana.

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        • John says:

          Solid combination of smarminess and being wrong, Ian

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        • Ballfan says:

          Incorrect Ian R

          that pick is protected b/c its the one they got for not signing Bickford

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        • Ian R. says:

          @John and Ballfan: Huh. It appears you’re right – I wasn’t aware of this rule, but compensation picks for failure to sign the previous year’s picks are indeed automatically protected, whether they’re in the top 10 or not. And of course, the Jays’ actual first-round pick (#9 overall) is also protected. Signing Santana would have merely forfeited their second-round pick (#50 overall), which is not nothing, but it’s not much.

          That’s a weird inconsistency in the rules. A team that fails to sign a high draftee can push another team’s pick out of protected status (as happened to the Mets last year, IIRC), but if the comp pick falls outside the top 10, it’s still protected.

          Having said all that, I’m now inclined to agree with Steve. This was the perfect year for the Jays to be active in free agency (whether on Santana or someone else), given that they have not one but two protected early picks… and they basically did nothing.

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        • Jason B says:

          To be clear, I wish they had done things in free agency also.

          Just not Ervin Santana-related things.

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  3. Big z says:

    At what point is the draft pick more valuable than the prospects surrendered? Obviously, the prospect cost would depend on the pitcher they were trading for, but their farm system is not particularly deep, isn’t it reasonable to assume that considering jason hursh is a too 5 prospect for them right now, and he was taken in the comp round last year, that their first round pick would have been more valuable this year, especially considering its a deeper draft? I’m jus not sure the prospect cost for a comparable pitcher in a trade would have been greater than that first round pick, and very well may have cost less financially. What would a shark package look like from the braves? Keep in mind I think it’s reasonable to expect shark to pitch better than Ervin this season, and he has two years of control, so the price would likely be greater than for an equivalent pitcher to Ervin, which may not exist on the market right now.

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    • Anon21 says:

      Teams don’t trade for “org #5 prospects,” they trade for good prospects. The Braves aren’t really in a position to put together a good prospect package for anyone right now, which makes the pick valuable but also prices them out of the trade market.

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      • Surrealistic Pillow says:

        Precisely. Hursh is interesting, but he wouldn’t be in the top 10 of a number of other teams’ prospect rankings.

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      • Luke Appling says:

        Dave Dombrowski collects org #5 prospects, give him a call.

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        • Anon21 says:

          It’d only be fair—he intervened once in the Nationals’ favor, now he should send the Braves Max Scherzer for Hursh and Ramiro Pena.

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  4. wjylaw says:

    I haven’t seen anyone mention this, but if the Braves have insurance on Medlen’s contract (which admittedly might exclude his elbow) isn’t it possible that Santana’s cost is really 14.1M – Amount covered on Medlen’s contract?

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  5. MrKnowNothing says:

    Basically, if he pitches well, he’ll kind of have a “2/$30″ deal if he gets a QO next year. It sucks for him, bc he’s carrying the risk and I get that but if he gambles a bit and pitches well, he could end up earning 2/$30 or maybe even 3/$45.

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    • Roger says:

      The Braves are unlikely to give a QO. They have been very risk-averse in such situations ever since Maddux accepted their arby offer, blowing their budget and forcing the Millwood-Estrada trade. They also have a reasonable expectation that their complete 2015 rotation is already in house.

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      • Matt says:

        They also had a reasonable expectation that their complete 2014 rotation was already in house, so there’s that.

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      • Dan Ugglas Forearm says:

        If Santana pitches well, he’s getting the QO. The Braves haven’t been risk-averse, they just haven’t had very many worthy players reach free agency. Brian McCann got the QO. Michael Bourn got the QO.

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      • Paul says:

        They also gave Rafael Soriano the QO knowing that there was a good chance he’d accept and was way out of their budget for a RP. They immediately traded him to Tampa Bay for Jesse Chavez. It’s an odd circumstance, but I think we’d see them do something like that before they just didn’t extend a worthy player a QO just in fear of not being able to afford him.

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        • jim says:

          the braves gave rafael soriano a qualifying offer? that was quite the trick, considering it didn’t exist yet

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        • Garrett says:

          Oh Christ, Jim – you’re so smart, we get it. The arbitration offer they gave Soriano was essentially the same thing as a QO in this case, as a one-year offer for a substantial chunk of change. I’m sure Paul just wasn’t copy editing a comment on the FanGraph comment section.

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      • Paul says:

        Yeah, thanks Garrett. And you’re right, Jim, it wasn’t a QO. But the point doesn’t change. They aren’t going to just let him walk away if he’s a clear, worthy QO-candidate because they’re afraid they’ll have to pay him. There’s no doubt they’ll be more averse to it than the Yankees, Red Sox, and other big boys, but that doesn’t mean they are unlikely to do it just because it’s a risk to blow their budget. There are always options, and letting an asset walk for absolutely nothing is usually a sub-optimal one.

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  6. Hurtlockertwo says:

    The Braves should be more worried about the black hole known as Uggla/B.J.
    producing -3.1 WAR from the starting lineup.

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  7. Chris says:

    I doubt that qualifying offer is as much of a factor for him next offseason. He would probably need about a 3-win season to deserve another QO, and if he does that, he is probably in line for a longer contract.

    If his elbow breaks down sometime this season, then he probably wouldn’t receive a QO.

    I realize that there is a middle ground here, I just don’t think that it’s very big.

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  8. 28 this year says:

    Also regarding future QOs, that week you have you decide isn’t necessarily the strongest barometer of your market. Granted agents are optimistic about how much money they can get their clients, its not a huge risk at the beginning of an offseason as the players think they can get more later in the offseason.

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  9. Thomas Grantham says:

    I don’t think teams are fooled by park effects these days. If that factored into his decision to sign with Atlanta, then he wasn’t being smart. I believe Dave said something similarly about Cruz not wanting to play in Seattle…

    In reality, ATL is less likely to extend a QO than other teams in my opinion. This played a bigger role.

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    • Roger says:

      Some teams are smarter than others about park effects, and park factors aren’t always a perfect description of park effects.

      I think the weaker division was likely a significant factor in his decision. He has a real shot at the playoffs.

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    • pft says:

      From a marketing viewpoint, you always want the raw numbers to look good and any adjustments to the contrary to be done by the other party. Adjustments can always be argued as they are imperfect with large error bands.

      The Braves essentially paid 20 million for 1 yr of Santana, especially if they don’t plan to offer a QO and chance getting a pick if he rejects it. If they offer it, there is a good chance he accepts.

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    • Valuearb says:

      Ruben Amaro is still a GM.

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  10. LaLoosh says:

    “In retrospect, I was overthinking it. ” Nice to see that you didn’t run away from this. Ervin may not be all that, but he’s certainly an upgrade over the Jurrjens and Brittons and Blantons that may be available… and considering that the Braves are pretty invested in winning this year, it just all made far too much sense to pull the trigger. Worst case, he accepts the QO next year and the Braves have him at 2/28M (assuming nothing worse like blowing out his arm or just performance implosion occurs)…

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  11. KCDaveInLA says:

    Score one for Dayton Moore – $12 million and a non-prospect for one year of 3-win pitcher and a supplemental 1st round pick.

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    • Max Muncy says:

      Yeah. Everyone, including me, was highly critical at the time. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

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    • Ian R. says:

      In the spirit of being contrary, there’s a decent chance the Royals could have gotten Santana for less than $12 million and an organizational player by just waiting for the Angels to buy out his contract and negotiating with him as a free agent.

      Still, that’s weighing a difference of a few million against the potential for missing out on Santana entirely by letting him go to the open market. You’re right – this was a good move for Moore.

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  12. jim says:

    I wonder if they have a handshake agreement to not offer a QO next year

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  13. pft says:

    So Erwin Santana gets his 14.1 million and the Braves give up a 1st round pick. That’s costing the Braves about 20 million factoring in the value of the pick, and while they may expect a pick in return for losing him next year, there is a good chance he accepts a QO.

    Its a win for Santana, since not only does he get to miss a week of payless Spring Training, he gets to go to a team with a shot at the playoffs, and out of the AL and DH which will help his raw numbers. Beats staying with the Royals.

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  14. Ervin Santana says:

    I rock at pitching!

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