Ervin Santana Changes the Trade Market Landscape

It was just a little while ago that Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore stubbornly refused to throw in the towel and concede defeat. To the media, at least. Though Moore acknowledged his team was below .500 this season, he said he thought they still had a run in them — that the team hadn’t yet settled into a groove. The Royals, he said, weren’t going to be sellers. If anything, Kansas City was going to be buyer. Based on Moore’s words, the Royals were going to keep going for it, and we criticized that here. And lots of people criticized it in lots of places.

There might be a lesson here, about judging general managers by their words instead of by their actions. Sometimes, you have to say one thing while you try to do another, to keep up appearances. And while the Royals have played fine baseball since Moore delivered his message to the press, there are reports  Moore’s position isn’t exactly what he suggested. From Wednesday:

 

Of course, there still haven’t been any actions, and every player in baseball would be moved for the “right offer.” If it wasn’t quite fair to blast Moore for saying he wasn’t giving up, it’s similarly not fair to compliment Moore on his willingness to move Santana somewhere else. But there’s some substance here, as it would appear that the Royals have put Ervin Santana on the trade market. That changes things.

For the Royals, this wouldn’t be too hard to swallow. Though Santana’s been a terrific pitcher, they now have Danny Duffy healthy and pitching in the minors; Santana is a free-agent-to-be. Odds are he didn’t factor into the 2014 plans, so trading Santana wouldn’t hurt next year’s playoff chances. Other reports have the Royals looking at Alex Rios, who’s under contract beyond this year’s home stretch.And if you consider both that and the team’s unwillingness to talk about James Shields, it looks like the team is prepared to move on from 2013 while focusing on a run in a year. That’s not altogether unreasonable.

After this season, without a trade, the Royals would extend to Santana a qualifying offer and then he would probably sign a multi-year contract somewhere else. The Royals then would be entitled to compensation, so whatever they might move Santana for now would have to exceed that compensation draft pick in value. If this were still the Ervin Santana of before, that might’ve been a tall task. But Santana seems to be something of a new man. He’s improved from the pitcher the Angels dumped on the Royals simply to clear salary. This time, in a trade, Santana could fetch more than Brandon Sisk.

Here’s a table to consider, showing Santana’s monthly average fastball velocities:

Month FB velo
Apr-12 92.6
May-12 92.0
Jun-12 91.9
Jul-12 91.9
Aug-12 90.8
Sep-12 91.0
Apr-13 91.7
May-13 91.8
Jun-13 93.0
Jul-13 93.2

Last season, Santana’s fastball declined, and while he never went on the disabled list, he acknowledged he experienced some elbow discomfort. It’s not the first time he had some issues with his elbow, but he’s bounced back in 2013 and right now he’s pitching strong and easy. Santana’s pitching with familiar arm strength, and that seems to be driving some truly promising results.

I count 67 starters who have thrown at least 100 innings in both 2012 and 2013. In terms of drop in ERA-, Santana ranks first. In terms of drop in FIP-, Santana ranks first. In terms of drop in xFIP-, Santana ranks second, between Homer Bailey and Justin Masterson. Santana’s trending in the right direction: He’s thrown more strikes, he’s walked fewer batters, he’s whiffed more batters and he’s put more balls in play on the ground. In all the ways a pitcher can improve, Santana has improved. And while he’s still not one of the very best pitchers in baseball, what he is is perhaps the best pitcher on the market. If not that, he might have the most trade value.

Matt Garza just got traded from the Cubs to the Rangers, and Garza is good. But Garza was pitching in the National League, and earlier this season he missed time due to injury. Jake Peavy is back and being dangled by the White Sox, and he’s quite good too, but he’s missed time due to injury. In reality, teams don’t quite know what he’s capable of right now. Santana has recent health and recent success, and he’s pitched in the AL. He’s always pitched in the AL, and he has postseason experience. Throw in the fact Santana has a live fastball, and the Royals should expect at least as much as the Cubs got for Garza. What Peavy has, that Santana doesn’t, is another year of team control, since he’s under contract in 2014. But Peavy also has reliability issues and Santana requires little commitment.

It helps the Royals to have seen what Garza was able to fetch, and that kind of package easily exceeds the value of a compensation draft pick. They’re similar pitchers with similar talents and similar contract situations, and now that market’s been set. Some feel like the Rangers paid steeply, but the Rangers obviously found the deal fair. It wouldn’t be outlandish for the Royals to ask for even more. Santana has the lowest walk rate of his career, and the second-highest strikeout rate. For the first time ever, he might be considered a moderate groundball pitcher. There haven’t been sweeping changes in Santana’s repertoire, but there have been changes in how he’s used it. That’s how he has basically the same ERA-, FIP- and xFIP- as Madison Bumgarner. The Royals got Santana on the cheap and they’re in position to turn him into long-lasting value.

The Royals think they’re close, but a run in 2014 is a hell of a lot more likely than a run in 2013. Kansas City could trade Ervin Santana without appearing like they’re entering another rebuild. Santana’s unlikely to re-sign after the season, and it shouldn’t be hard to turn him into more than a late-first-round draft pick. There’s an argument to be made that the Royals should do more — a lot more — like look to trade Shields, too. But let’s deal with one thing at a time. It’s right to put Santana on the market. And Santana might just have the most trade value of anyone there. The Royals saw what the Cubs did with Matt Garza. A move like that would be great for the Royals.



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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.


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AnthonySoprano
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AnthonySoprano
3 years 2 months ago

I find it extremely hard to believe that Santana could fetch anything close to what Garza brought on the open market. Santana is a year older and has 500 more IP in his career. He’s also posting career best numbers in ERA, K%, LOB% & GB%. His BABIP is low when you look at his LD% & GB%. Any team buying him would be buying high and his peripherals don’t support his gaudy stats.

You’re also selling Garza short here too. It’s not like he hasn’t pitched against AL teams this year, has it? Oh wait, he has (OAK, LAA, NYY, HOU & CHW). He must have gotten crushed by these “superior” AL teams, right? Oops, no: 36.2IP 8R 25H 6BB 29K Finally, you also conveniently forget to mention Garza’s three years pitching with the Rays and two with the Twins. I guess that didn’t fit in with your narrative though.

Nick
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Nick
3 years 2 months ago

Glad you put superior in quotes, since four of e five AL teams you mentioned are in the bottom six AL teams for hitting this year.

Ian R.
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Ian R.
3 years 2 months ago

This. Heck, he racked up 8 of those 29 strikeouts against the Astros. Does that even count?

Steve-O
Guest
Steve-O
3 years 2 months ago

That.
Never mind that 8 out of 20 of Santanas starts were against teams in the BOTTOM 25% of the league in team wRC+ for the month that he pitched against them (Garza 4 out of 12 were in the bottom 25%). Or that Santanas starts have come against teams that average 16th in the league in wRC+. Teams that Garza has face average 17th in the league, Oooooh that grueling AL schedule.

Schuxu
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Schuxu
3 years 2 months ago

Age and IP should not really affect the trade value for a half year rental.

Andy
Guest
Andy
3 years 2 months ago

Santana has been 500 ip healthier than Garza. Not a bad thing.

Jeff Francoeur
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Jeff Francoeur
3 years 2 months ago

Why would anyone be surprised about KC throwing in the towel, once they dumped me?

Chris Getz
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Chris Getz
3 years 2 months ago

This would be funnier if it read:
They should have thrown in the towel as soon as let me go.

Yunel Escobar
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Yunel Escobar
3 years 2 months ago

Folks just don’t appreciate ballplayer humor.

Yuniesky Betancourt
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Yuniesky Betancourt
3 years 2 months ago

el infierno, they dumped me twice. But I’ll be back!

Yuniesky Betancourt
Guest
Yuniesky Betancourt
3 years 2 months ago

Yuni…there are two of us. Quick, we must make haste for Kansas City; it is our destiny.

ALEastbound
Guest
3 years 2 months ago

A decent pickup but I doubt many GMs would pay through the nose to get him.

jdbolick
Member
Member
3 years 2 months ago

Agreed. Perception has always mattered more than statistics when it comes to trade value, whether for major league teams or even fantasy ones. Garza is perceived to be a much better pitcher than Santana and therefore would presumably garner much more interest. That’s not to say that some smart GM won’t target Santana, but it could definitely suppress the amount of value Moore is offered in return.

Brandon
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Brandon
3 years 2 months ago

Just bring up Duffy already.

Paul
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Paul
3 years 2 months ago

Prior to the Garza trade, this discussion was going to be negatively influenced by lack of understanding by lots of fans and media about the value of a first round pick under the new rules.

Now, it’s going to be negatively influenced by the value of Mike Olt.

Some Kansas City media in the past week have urged Santana to be dealt, while stating incorrectly that a draft pick is not worth much, and that they don’t know much about prospects but that basically getting something for him is better than getting nothing.

Santana is undoubtedly worth a tender and will get a multi-year deal somewhere. That does not just give them a first round pick. It gives them a HUGE amount of flexibility not just in next year’s draft. Because of the new bonus pool and slot system, and the fact that they acquired another pick at the end of round 1 last week in the “competitive balance” lottery, a move like this year’s Sean Manaea pick is back on the table for next year. In other words, the value of an extra first round pick is much, much more valuable than it used to be (and this is without comparing how prospects dealt in deadline deals turned out vs. first round picks overall – hint: it’s not pretty for the prospects).

Secondly, Mike Olt is no longer a Top 50 prospect for most evaluators. His “vision problems” are somewhat ironic given his enormous strikeout rate and inability to hit righthanders. If somebody told you the headliner in a deal for Santana was going to be a good fielding, high strikeout, mistake power hitting, strictly platoon, right handed hitting third baseman, would you red light that? Didn’t think so. The Cubs haul for Garza is what you would expect for an oft-injured, no compensation rental who is a third starter at best in the AL, and dealt by a team that just needs to throw a bunch of projects at the wall and see who sticks. There is no prospect on the level of Jean Segura in that deal, and before this year even he had major questions surrounding his abysmal, hacktastic plate discipline.

I’m all for putting Santana on the market, but the Royals don’t need random guys. They are where they are because they have too many of those already. If a true impact prospect like Segura is not part of a package for him, they are MUCH better off with the extra draft pick.

Chris
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Chris
3 years 2 months ago

Olt was more of a throw in of the garza deal. Cj Edwards is thought to be the headliner and Justin Grimm and Olt plus the ptbnl were sweetener. I think Olt just has more name regognition which is why people think he is the big piece of the deal. Honestly I think the cubs ware just looking at Olt as a platoon partner for Luis valbuena. I agree that making a qualifying offer and getting compensation in the draft is valuable, but I think your underselling the Garza deal.

Paul
Guest
Paul
3 years 2 months ago

I guess my point is that the Garza deal, which is exactly what the Cubs needed to do, would not be a good deal for the Royals. And it’s compounded by people OVERselling the Garza deal.

The Royals are in a good spot here where they can truly wait for somebody to overpay or just keep him. Most fans will not mind, but of course talk radio is going to kill GMDM for it. They have always been in the spot the Cubs are in now and mucked it up more often than not. How well he handles the Santana situation really should be how we judge whether or not Dayton really needs to go. I’m not optimistic.

Garza's agent
Guest
Garza's agent
3 years 2 months ago

Where do you get “oft-injured” from? He started 30+ games for 4 years from 2008-11.

tom
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tom
3 years 2 months ago

It would be absolutely ridiculous and stupid if Dayton Moore even considered trading James Shields the same year we gave up Wil Myers for him. I also dont think its “unlikely” Santana would resign because he has told multiple media outlets that he loves KC and would love to stay here. A similar situation as Jeremy Guthrie last year.

Steve
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Steve
3 years 2 months ago

What if he got back more than Wil Meyers?

Antonio Bananas
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Antonio Bananas
3 years 2 months ago

Like if he also got jake odorizzi and a lottery ticket like Mike Montgomery?

Professor Ross Eforp
Member
Professor Ross Eforp
3 years 2 months ago

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that Guthrie getting $25MM over 3 years as a mediocre starting pitcher had as much to do with him staying as anything else.

Bob
Guest
Bob
3 years 2 months ago

As a blue jay fan, I no how bad pitchers have been from national league to American League. Dickey is not even close to his cy ability, Johnson has 1 win and burhle is 0-7 against the al east. Garza will be terrible, Santana will rock. Awesome article.

paul
Guest
paul
3 years 2 months ago

I think it is a great idea. Obviously, it is price dependent. People can talk about prospects that did not work, but that is part of the risk. Twins faced this issue with Willingham last yr. You have a solid vet having a career yr. You think they regret that? I have always thought non-playoff teams do not sell enough. Santana is a 2 pitch pitcher, who has always been inconsistent. At the end of the day the Royals are not making the playoffs and need to build for the future. Extract value now.

Keith
Guest
Keith
3 years 2 months ago

What is a fair haul from Boston?

Middlebrooks straight up?
Brentz and one of Workman, Raunado, Owens?

With the black hole of suck that Moustakas has been and the hole in RF, I think you have to get one of Middlebrooks or Brentz.

bob81
Member
bob81
3 years 2 months ago

Lets put it this way… You might, big might, be able to get olt alone for Santana, even without everyone else, with similar or possibly better results from Santana over garza, especially if he heads to NL

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