If there is one hole on the Royals at this point, it would be in the starting rotation. James Shields is a more than competent top of the rotation starter, but Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas project more as middle of the rotation innings eaters as opposed to pitchers that can fill the role of a second starter. In a perfect world, the Royals second starter last season, Ervin Santana, would find his way back to Kansas City and fill that spot, at least for a year or two.
As it turns out, Santana is still available. Perhaps this is due to the qualifying offer he received from the Royals, where any team signing him would need to forfeit a draft pick. Perhaps it is due to the erratic nature of Santana’s career, where he has posted an ERA north of 5.00 three times in the past seven years. Whatever the reason, with five weeks before pitchers and catchers report, Santana still finds himself without a team.
As noted by Bill Ivie Jr of Bleacher Report, this wait may actually improve the Royals chances at bringing Ervin Santana back. As postulated in his article, the Royals may look to offer Santana a one year contract, stating that they will not use the qualifying offer on him if he signs. This way, Santana could test free agency in another year, and if he pitches just as well, may be able to line up another solid payday.
Such a scenario would certainly work for the Royals. Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer would get another season to prepare for a major league workload and to refine their pitching. Danny Duffy would not be under any pressure whatsoever, and could look to continue to round back into shape. Meanwhile, that rotation could be strong enough, with the expected improvements on offense, to give the Royals the pitching they need to be able to go on a playoff run.
But what would be the draw for Santana? If he is able to get that clause in the contract specifically stating that he will not be made a qualifying offer next year, similar to how football players get that clause after being franchised, he may be interested. The Royals could also offer Santana a run into the postseason, something he has not experienced since 2009. Santana may also be willing to come back just because he appeared to embrace Kansas City quickly; after all, he still refers to himself as a “Kansas City Royals Starting Pitcher” on his Twitter profile.
It may be that Ervin Santana finds his way back to Kansas City for one more year. Who knows, maybe he could stay around a bit longer as well.