The Matt Garza trade went down last night, and gives us some more perspective into just how much Ervin Santana might be worth on the market. Let’s discuss Ervin’s value relative to Garza and a little informal game theory to figure out what sort of return the Royals should expect if they unload Santana.
If we compare Santana and Garza directly, it is easy to see why Santana is seen as the second best starter on the trade market. Ervin is about a year older, and made is debut in the big leagues a year earlier, which means we have good track records to look at. Santana’s best year, in 2008, is better than anything Garza has done, but Garza has never had a terrible year like Santana last year. Garza has been a consistently good pitcher albeit with some injury issues last year. From 2008 through 2011 Garza put up at least 184 innings and averaged almost 3.2 WAR per season. Santana hasn’t
cracked 3 WAR since 2008, so Garza’s consistency makes him more valuable.
Both contracts are similar enough that we can ignore them, so let’s look at this year’s performance. This year Garza got a late start to the year so he has only thrown 71 innings to Santana’s 130, but the innings they have thrown have been very similar.
There is no discernible difference in 2013, which is why Garza’s track record over the past several seasons made him the better candidate. For Texas it was even more of a difference since their park gives up a lot of home runs traditionally. Garza has never shown a huge propensity for giving up home runs, while that is Santana’s Achilles heel. It made sense for the Rangers to target Garza. Although this year the home run park factor for Arlington is actually not all that different from Kauffman so far. If you take a close look at those park factors, two of the teams that might be interested in Santana are in parks that suppress home runs. Both the Dodgers and Pirates would be good fits for Santana.
Ervin Santana was not the number one target in the market…until yesterday. Now with Garza off the board their are no other pitchers throwing like Ervin this year available. What that may mean is that the haul for him could actually be larger than what Texas gave up for Garza if their is a bidding war. The calculus has changed, and any team wanting a starter that can not only help them get to the playoffs but also through it may have to pony up more to get the best guy available. So, let’s evaluate what the Cubs got for Garza, and then our expectations in a trade of Santana should be that plus or minus a little based on number of teams interested.
Before I start, I don’t like either of the main players Texas gave up, but I will try to avoid spending time on my biases against them. The Cubs got Mike Olt who was the #22 ranked prospect coming into 2013 by both MLB.com and Baseball America. Except 2013 has been a very bad year for Olt who is hitting .213/.317/.422 in AAA as a 24 year old. He is probably not a top shelf prospect right now due to his struggles this year, but he has been for the past couple of years. They also got Justin Grimm who is an okay pitching prospect who is getting beat up in the majors this year and is also 24 years old. Then they got a live arm in C.J. Edwards and either one or two players to be named later depending on who the Cubs choose.
That is a decent haul for half a year of a pitcher’s services. Like I said, I don’t like Olt or Grimm and am very glad that was not who the Royals traded for, but a tarnished top tier prospect and a second tier pitching prospect close to major league ready is nothing to sneeze at. It means players like Joc Pederson, discussed by Rany, could be well within reach. It also shows that holding Santana to the end of the year to then get the draft pick is folly. You can get much more than a 30th or so overall draft pick out of Santana by trading him.
The only other option is to sign Santana to a long-term deal if he is amenable to such an arrangement. That is not likely, and quite frankly given his up and down track record I would not like the Royals to be the ones to give him a big contract. The bar has been set, and Santana is worth a decent amount on the trade market. It is time to shop him.