Jul 19, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Ervin Santana (54) delivers a pitch in the fifth inning of the game against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

What Might Ervin Santana Return in a Trade?


Last night, Ervin Santana was strong. He rebounded from is worst start of the year by going 7.1 innings, striking out six, and giving up two singles. He walked the last batter he faced before being pulled for Kelvin Herrera. His game score for the night was 79 – his highest yet.

The Royals have a decision to make. Buyers or sellers? Dayton Moore’s comments recently suggest he’s leaning towards standing pat or even buying. Insert your opinion on what he should do, but what he’s saying is that he’s not looking to sell. That can change depending on how the rest of the homestand goes, but for now, let’s assume the Royals will sell when they recognize the math is not in their favor.

Santana is one of the best starting pitching options on the trade market. Matt Garza‘s getting the big press, but the Cubs are clear sellers. Garza has been great this year, and it’s easy to see why he’s a big chip. Recent rumors have pointed to a potential trade to Texas for, among others, Rangers #2 prospect Mike Olt. That’s a nice return, so it brings up the question of what Santana could bring back.

Last July, three big name pitchers (who were impending free agents) were flipped near the deadline: Zack Greinke, Ryan Dempster, and Francisco Liriano. Wandy Rodriguez, who had two years on a deal left, was also traded. Here’s how Santana compares to their numbers at the time of their trade:

Player Games Innings K BB ERA WHIP Salary (millions)
Wandy Rodriguez 21 130.2 89 32 3.79 1.267 10/13/13*
Francisco Liriano 22 100 109 55 5.31 1.440 5.5
Ryan Dempster 16 104 83 27 2.25 1.038 13.25
Zack Greinke 21 123 122 28 3.44 1.203 13.5
Ervin Santana (’13) 19 130.1 104 28 3.18 1.074 13

Greinke is the biggest name, but, winning a Cy Young award in your career does that. Dempster had the best season, but also had some injury problems at different points in the year. Liriano was more of a project and affordable lottery ticket. Rodriguez was widely shopped but most didn’t want his contract.

Santana doesn’t compare directly to those contexts, but given his performance this year, I’d say he’s of a similar stature as Dempster, and his health this year (and younger age) make him a better option. Last year, the Cubs received right-handed pitcher Kyle Hendricks (a 2011 8th round pick) and third baseman Christian Villanueva. Hendricks is a nice sleeper and he’s got a 2.03 ERA in 106.1 innings in Double A. Villanueva was in Baseball America’s top 100 prospects before 2012 and ranked 12th on the Cubs prospects list before 2013. That’s a decent return.

Greinke brought the most back to the Brewers (All-Star Jean Segura and high-upside pitcher John Hellweg), but he has the track record of a potential elite arm that Dempster (and Santana) never had. The Royals won’t get that level of return for Santana. They might get a similar high-risk, high-reward arm but no other MLB-ready player.

Liriano was cheap but also not very good, but he still returned Eduardo Escobar to the Twins. Even if he’s just playing for the Twins, Escobar made the big leagues, and getting anyone back who gets that far has some value. The Twins also received left-handed pitcher Pedro Hernandez, who Baseball America put second on Minnesota’s depth chart among left-handed starters. The Royals should get more than a utility guy and minor league depth.

Rodriguez was in a different situation, but he still brought back two left-handed starters for the Astros minor league system – Colton Cain and Rudy Owens. They also got Robbie Grossman, who Baseball America ranked 17th on the Astros prospect list heading into 2013. He’s probably nothing more than a fourth outfielder, but anything he might do at the plate will help. For a salary dump, that’s a pretty decent return. Santana would not be a salary dump, however.

Also to consider is that the Royals would like to get the compensation pick if they can when Santana signs with another team this winter. They already have a pick between the first and second rounds due to the competitive balance lottery. Adding another pick between their first rounder and the competitive balance pick is attractive. That has to factor into part of the package so that any trade has to pay the Royals enough for Santana and the draft pick (and slot bonus amount) that they’d be surrendering.

To me, given Santana’s performance and what the Royals would expect in return for him, they’d be looking for some deal that would include a middle-tier prospect and a nice player to dream about. Maybe a project. If the Royals eat all of Santana’s salary, that’s maybe an even better prospect in return.

Possible teams that might be looking include Texas, Pittsburgh, Washington, and perhaps the Dodgers (among others). Rany Jazayerli tossed the idea of Joc Pederson of the Dodgers as a potential return. Given Ned Colleti’s past trade history, maybe he’d give up that much, maybe not. Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle tweeted that he’d heard the Giants may be looking at Santana, too. Maybe a bidding war opens up in a week once Garza is out and (if) the Royals have fallen further behind. As the deadline nears, teams can become more desperate to get a quality arm. Perhaps my estimation (a #10-20 prospect and someone with upside) is low.

Of course, that all depends on the Royals selling in the first place.

Note: Brian Henry examined the potential return for Santana with the Cubs return for Matt Garza in mind. That trade was finalized after this article’s original posting.

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