For Sustained Success, the Kansas City Royals Better Hang on to Ervin Santana

I believe in Magic. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Do you believe in Magic? That’s what Dayton Moore and David Glass need to ask themselves, because the time has come. It’s time to extend Ervin “Magic” Santana. For all we know, discussions between Moore, Glass, and Santana (and his agent) are already under way. But they have to like this guy, right? They can’t be ready to let him walk. This is a no-brainer, isn’t it?

I think it is. MLBTR already has a poll up about which players will be extended before hitting free agency, which includes the following six players: Santana,  Robinson Cano, Chase Utley (just got extended), Brian McCann, Kendrys Morales, and Hunter Pence. Of all those players…the player who is probably most important to his team’s future success is Ervin Santana.

Utley is old, and the Phillies are a wreck. Cano is a stud…but again…his New York Yankees look like a sinking ship. McCann? Maybe. But the Braves do have a young slugger named Evan Gattis ready to step in if needed. Morales? Nah. Pence? I don’t know…the Giants seem like another team on the slide to me…and while I do like Pence, his line the last two seasons for the Phillies and Giants is .263/.321/.436…seems like with all the outfielders bouncing around the majors, Pence is replaceable.

Which brings us back to Ervin Santana and our Kansas City Royals – and the only pitcher on the above list of players. Many thought Santana wouldn’t do much this year, after a shaky 2012…and I was on the fence myself. I did like the move, and assumed he’d bounce back, but didn’t figure him for (to this point) career bests in ERA and WHIP. His HR rate has also come back to earth. After an awful 2012, which saw him giving up homers at a rate of 2 per 9 innings, he’s back to 1 per 9 this year (his career average is 1.2, so this is more in line with his usual numbers). James Shields is the leader of this staff, but as far as being the “ace”…well…Ervin’s given him a run for his money.

“But we’re a small market team…Ownership is more concerned about turning a profit than winning…”

Look…I’ve been as critical as anyone when it comes to David Glass and spending. And more importantly, critical of Dayton Moore and how he’s chosen to spend that money. That said, I have come around on Glass. I do think he wants to win. He’s spent more money this year with the expectation of a good product on the field – and his investment has paid off.

And Moore? Say what you will about the trade of Wil Myers for James Shields (are you STILL hung up on that?), it’s worked. And the trade for Santana has worked, too. These two moves by Moore have put the Royals in position to fight for postseason play for the first time since 1985…I call that a success.

So, can the Royals afford Santana? Most speculation I’ve heard has the necessary deal at somewhere around 4 years for a total between $50 and $60 million. I don’t see why that’s out of the question. If Mr. Glass is serious about winning, and I think he is, this signing has to be one of the most important personnel decisions for the Royals in the last 20 years.

Guthrie’s been great, but is he a solid #2? Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Looking ahead to 2014, we know Shields and Jeremy Guthrie will be back in the fold. Shields will of course be the ace of the staff while Guthrie will ideally be no higher than a #3 starter. We do have plenty of young arms in the mix, and a couple we’ve already seen contribute (for better or worse). Some of these guys could take big steps forward heading into 2014. Key word being “could.” Santana, though, is good to go. No question marks. Do I expect a repeat of 2013? Not really. But he does have a career 4.20 ERA and his 162 game averages are: 14 wins, 216 IP, 171 K, 67 BB, and 1.2 HR/9. That’s a very good and reliable veteran pitcher.

Two more factors to consider in relation to Santana’s performance: the ballpark and the defense. Pitching about half his games in Kauffman Stadium means fly balls aren’t going over the wall as often…and the ones that stay in the yard? Well, if you were a pitcher, wouldn’t you love to have guys like Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain out there running everything down? Seems like the combination of Santana’s god given talent and these other circumstances add up to make one hell of a pitcher. Those are two factors Moore will pitch to Santana and his agent, and two factors I have to believe Santana is very aware of.

Now, let’s say we do keep him. If we return in 2014 with the same three veterans leading the way, the Royals have plenty of options to fill out the last couple of spots. Waiting in the wings and/or returning to the mix are guys like Wade Davis, Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura, Will Smith, Luis Mendoza, and Kyle Zimmer, to name a few. Looking at those names…we’ve got some guys who will definitely be ready out of spring training. We’ve got a guy in Ventura who will be knocking on the door in early 2014, and another in Zimmer who is a little further out. Of those pitchers (minus Zimmer)…who are you comfortable with as a #3 starter? Because without Santana, Guthrie is the #2 and we fill out the rest of the rotation in-house (barring some other FA signing).

I’m okay with those guys making up the back end of the rotation, until they show something more…but I’m NOT okay with Guthrie as a #2 while three of the above guys fill things out. I don’t like that rotation nearly as much as the version with Santana. And why look at another free agent possibility when we’ve got a guy in the locker room that can do the job?

Glass and Moore need to make the push now. The team has buzz around it for the first time in a long time. Bringing Shields and Santana here for 2013 made a statement. Why break up the core of  the best Royals rotation in years? Letting Santana hit the market could be a disaster for this franchise. It’s time to make another statement. Let’s keep Ervin in Royal Blue.

Oh…and when you’re done with Ervin? Let’s go ahead and start working on Shields, too.

Topics: Ervin Santana, Jeremy Guthrie, Kansas City Royals

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  • Marcus Meade

    I really love the idea of Santana staying in KC. I think you’re right about this being an ideal place for him as a pitcher with the park factors and the great defense, though that makes it an ideal place for almost all pitchers. But it’s usually a mistake to sign a guy based on his career year. If the Royals decide that they are willing to pay Santana, they will almost certainly be overpaying Santana because the odds of him repeating this season are very long. If Santana wants four years $50-60 million, the Royals would not only overpay in dollars, they’d also be hanging onto Santana until he’s 34. That’s not the greatest risk ever, but it’s a factor for a guy who throws a whole lot of a sliders. This situation is similar to the Guthrie signing last year, though I think Guthrie was more attached to Kansas City itself. Guthrie is probably overpaid, but it seems like the Royals were ok giving him the type of money he would receive on the market. Santana would have to be the same way. They would have to be ok paying him for a career year.

    That’s all in the way of saying it’s bad for to sign Santana, but I wouldn’t hate it if they did.

    • Bob Ellis

      Marcus – agreed. I wouldn’t be on board with any kind of gross overpayment for Santana…but I wouldn’t be upset if they overpaid him due to his career year – because anyone who signs him will be doing the same. I’d just assume keep the rotation intact in those first three slots. If Santana reverts to his career average (4.2 ERA, etc) that’s not terrible either…and when you look at his 162 game average, he can handle a good workload, which makes the bullpen more efficient as well. With Shields, Santana, Guthrie all able to go deep into games…that’s a huge benefit.

  • jimfetterolf

    I would note that the expiry of Frenchy, Hoch, and Chen contracts frees up about $16 million, which means that extending both Santana and Shields at $16m each would leave money left over plus the new media money. The years will be a bigger problem for both, but 3/48 would be a fair starting offer, maybe options or vesting for a fourth year. Santana has commented that he likes it here and loves the defense, so won’t have the usual FA resistance.

    • Michael Engel

      There will also be increases due to arbitration for Hosmer, Crow, Holland, Collins, Mendoza, Getz, Kottaras, Maxwell, Paulino, Elliot Johnson, and Hochevar has a fourth year of arbitration if they tender him. Royals should still come out ahead but it won’t be by $16 million and they’ll also have Moose, Duffy, Coleman, Herrera and Dyson hitting arbitration the next year. Can probably buy some of those out to get cost control but those increases still have to be accounted for.

      But the new media money, especially in the first year, could be interesting to use since it’ll probably inflate salaries overall since everyone has more to spend but it’s not certain yet by how much. So market value today will be different by possibly a lot in the future.

      We shall see. Hunch is they could sign one but maybe not both of Shields/Santana.

      • jimfetterolf

        That’s why I figured about $16m each for S&S, that leaves $8m of expired contracts free for the arbitration, all that before $20-some-odd mil of media money. Extensions are easily doable, just a matter of whether the Royals think the pitchers are worth it. At the moment I may be more confident of Santana than Shields, so just extending him is most important, keeping the #1 and #2 in place for ’14.

        • Michael Engel

          Ah. Gotcha.

          I like both pitchers a lot. Always been a fan of both. Shields has been scary lately but I’m hoping it’s just a mechanical thing that can be easily fixed and not an injury. They at least have an extra year for him to sort out if they want to try an extension.

    • Bob Ellis

      Jim – exactly why I think it should be no problem to retain Santana and talk to Shields about staying on board as well. that’s a good chunk of money off the books and the new TV money will be a bonus. I don’t see why this team can’t up the payroll a bit. Like I said…I am coming around to believing Glass when he says he’ll spend a little more for a winner. He paid more this year and it’s worked pretty well. We should be able to identify what is needed to make an even stronger run next year and spend accordingly.

      Step 1 seems to be Ervin. Step 2 will be the arbitration bumps, step 3 should be a hard look at keeping Shields around. Hosmer will be key as well…coming up with a long-term deal for him is a must. But for right now, he’s here regardless…

      • jimfetterolf

        I assume next year’s payroll around $100m with the media money. Hosmer is looking more attractive for an extension, maybe Duffy at the end of the year, Cain. It’s going to be a full employment act for accountants.

    • Marcus Meade

      Don’t forget the biggest bump of them all. Guthrie’s salary goes from $5 million this season to $11 million next season. I think no matter what if the Royals are going to try to keep Santana, it will mean increasing payroll. I cannot foresee a way to simply pay Santana with expiring contracts. Santana’s expiring contract plus Frenchy, Hoch, and Chen saves $28 million. Let’s assume arbitration bumps take $8 million off the top, which is as good a guess as any. That leaves $20 million. But Guthrie’s salary makes that $14 million. Plus, Shields’ option next year is a $3 million dollar salary increase, which leaves $11 million. So, the Royals can offer Santana $11 million next year without raising payroll. That isn’t enough. He’ll want in the $15 a year range, maybe even a little more. They might be able to execute some sort of backloaded deal where they pay him $11 next year, wait for Shields to be off the books, and increase his salary then to something like $17 or $18. That would make a Shields extension harder, but they may not want to give Shields an extension.

      Maybe this increase in media money will allow the Royals to increase payroll and sign Santana. That would be cool.

      • Michael Engel

        I think the new media money gives more opportunity for some extensions because it’s added to the pot, but I don’t know if it helps in a free agent situation where there’s competition for a player’s services. In other words, the Royals will have more money to use, but since everyone else has that additional money, it doesn’t give them an advantage in free agency.

        But they still have the money available, so they can push that towards players they do have on the team now and use it to potentially keep them around.

        Maybe the players see the market and still want to test it if they’re going to become free agents, but there’s all this extra money teams will have that allows them to (at least in theory) bump up payroll. Maybe they can’t battle with other teams for a player in free agency but they might be able to work a new deal with the extra money.

        Or maybe it just won’t matter, but my gut feeling is that it can help in an extension situation.

      • jimfetterolf

        Good catch on Guthrie, forgot that. Have to rethink my numbers, still think it’s doable but less certainty.

        • Bob Ellis

          Guthrie goes up by $5M…from $6 to 11M…then back down to $9M the following year. No reason they can’t stagger some contracts similar to how they paid him. They might have to think outside the box with a couple of guys…but they should be able to keep the key players intact, in my opinion.

  • Zack Daddy

    Guthre’s contract jumps up significantly his second year cuz he took a discount the first year to make the payroll friendlier.

  • http://www.liberty.edu/online/degrees/doctoral/ Karen Falgore

    Ervin had some impressive years with the Angels. I still don’t know why they gave him up. I think he’s one of the most underrated pitchers in the game.

    • Alex Mejia

      As an Angels fan, I can tell you why: 2012. It was a disaster of a season for him. He got fat, his pitches were much weaker than normal, and he was giving up at least 2 homers a game. When Mike Scioscia called him out on things, he shrugged it off and said “I am what I am, deal with it”. He was also owed a ton of money, so it was pretty clear they were going to move him.

      What I’m upset about is what we got for him, which is nothing so far. Brandon Sisk had to get TJ surgery. I’m also upset that more people aren’t seeing just how terrible Scioscia, the coaching staff, front office, and the owner himself have become at judging talent and correcting flaws in players’ games. I’m really happy for Voodoo and the Royals, you guys deserve this opportunity to be good. And we deserve the shit sucking our team is doing nowadays.

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