March 13, 2014
Santana Settles, Atlanta Settles
Signed RHP Ervin Santana to a one-year deal worth $14.1 million. [3/12]
During the past week, the Braves have lost Kris Medlen (likely for the year) and Brandon Beachy to arm issues. Add Mike Minor, who hasn't pitched this spring and is headed for the disabled list, and 60 percent of the Braves' projected rotation could miss at least the beginning of the season. Faced with starting a less desirable trio—Freddy Garcia, David Hale, and Aaron Northcraft—Frank Wren opted instead to sacrifice his first-round pick and ink Santana. (A blow, it should be noted, that is lessened by the pick gained from Brian McCann's departure.)
Santana signs for what amounts to the qualifying offer—or the same deal he turned down from the Royals a few months ago. Considering how Nelson Cruz signed for a discount, this is an acceptable result. Whatever noise Santana's camp made about him sitting until the draft was proven to be just that, as he didn't even make it to Opening Day, which would have given him immunity from receiving the qualifying offer again this winter.
At any rate, Santana provides the suddenly shaky Braves rotation with a boost. Primarily a two-offering pitcher, Santana marries low-to-mid-90s heat with a knockout slider. Earlier in his career, he gained a reputation for being an extreme fly-ball pitcher, but that's no longer the reality. Santana has exceeded a 45 percent groundball rate in each of the past three seasons, and in 2013 worm-killers accounted for a career-best 47 percent of his balls in play. He throws strikes and, though he may not punch out as many as his raw stuff indicates he should, he tends to post good strikeout-to-walk ratios.
There are some negatives to Santana's game as well: historically he's been worse against left-handed hitters, in part due to a fringe changeup, and he's always had issues with the long ball. In fact, Santana has not allowed fewer than one home run per nine innings since 2009. He's done well to keep his walks in check and prevent too much damage, but it's something that could become a bigger issue if his control slips heading forward. Some teams were reportedly concerned about Santana's elbow. Those could be valid concerns based on his medicals, but his last DL trip came in 2009, and he's made at least 30 starts in each season since.
Should this be the year Santana misses time, the Braves would prefer it come during the middle of the season, as they would be better prepared to handle it. Minor should return in April, with Gavin Floyd joining the fray sometime between May and June. After that, the Braves could call upon J.R. Graham to assist if needed. That's without considering external possibilities. The Braves are realistic contenders, both within the division and the league, which means they should be aggressive and opportunistic—just as they were when they decided to grab Santana on a whim.
Meanwhile, the biggest losers here are the Blue Jays. At least the Orioles—often rumored to be the other major player in the Santana bidding—landed Ubaldo Jimenez and Cruz; the Jays' biggest addition from last season is Dioner Navarro, and Toronto did nothing to improve its rotation. Perhaps the Blue Jays plunge into the market and sign Stephen Drew to play second base. Shy of that, Toronto will effectively field the same unit as last season. Perhaps things go differently this time around, but if they don't, a boring winter will share the blame. —R.J. Anderson
The expectation all along was that Santana would sign with an American League team, but the Braves' sudden need created a better deal not only for Santana but for his fantasy owners as well. Santana should see a slight improvement in his ERA by default, and having Andrelton Simmons behind him will also help somewhat, as Santana has trended toward a groundball profile since 2011. A repeat of Santana’s 2013 ERA is unlikely, but a 3.50 ERA in Atlanta with the potential for 13 to 15 wins should not be a surprise. He’s a lower end starter in mixed leagues but worthy of owning, and should garner a bid in the neighborhood of $10 in NL-only. —Mike Gianella
R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @r_j_anderson