Now that a lot of discussion of the Matt Garza deal has given us optimism about Ervin Santana being back in Royal blue, as well as a lot of interest in Santana, it is time to talk about all of the benefits a pitcher of his caliber would mean to this particular team.
It is obvious that the rotation would be better with Ervin, but it would also change the near and short-term rotation needs in a significant way as well as define some of the roles for other players. This is how the rotation should be set up if Santana were in it:
- James Shields
- Ervin Santana
- Jason Vargas (only in front of Guthrie to break up lefties)
- Jeremy Guthrie
- Danny Duffy
So, the first thing Ervin would do is give a definite structure to the rotation by solidifying the five spot, and that would make is so that Luke Hochevar and Wade Davis can start working with the bullpen in mind from day one of spring training. Two caveats; 1) Dayton Moore might want to give Wade Davis another shot in the rotation due to the trade and this could make Santana less attractive to him GM; 2) I would also be open to cutting Hochevar for monetary reasons if it means getting Santana in the fold since he is over priced. Trading him would be preferable, but you gotta do what you gotta do. Cutting Davis with the number of years of control to go and aforementioned trade implications is unlikely.
Once those pieces are taken care of, a huge part of Santana’s value beyond his pure production can be planned out. This structure would allow the Royals to spend some time considering the best way to handle Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer. Both might be ready in the near future, and both are likely to be useful in some way late in the season if they are managed properly.
Neither will need to start in the rotation this year this way, which is good, because neither can handle a full season of baseball yet. This is true of Danny Duffy as well, but he will have to be managed at the big leagues so I will skip that discussion for now. Ventura threw 150 innings across three different levels last season, so he can hopefully go 170 or slightly more this season without wearing down. Zimmer didn’t quite throw 120 due to being shut down in August when he was experiencing some shoulder stiffness.
There are a couple of ways to handle this. One is to bring them along slow in the spring, or even delay their beginning. That way they don’t really start the every 5th day grind until later than usual. Then they will be around to fill in for the big league squad, or take a spot later in the year if needed. And if they are watched closely could also contribute from the bullpen in case of a close race in August, September, and maybe even October if the season worked out right.
The downside to this is a quick injury in the rotation would not be filled by Ventura or Zimmer. Zimmer really shouldn’t be in the majors that quick regardless since he could use a little time on the farm yet. An early vacancy could be filled by Davis or
Hochevar, or if once you put them in the bullpen you want to keep them there, maybe Chris Dwyer could take a couple of starts. The difference between any of them for a couple of starts and Yordano is likely to be negligible.
If you want them to be available all season, then the management needs to come in the form of skipping starts, at the minor or major level, in a systematic manner to reduce workload early in the assumption that will be needed for the big league team at some point. Also, neither should be needed to start in the playoffs with a shortened rotation and a solid one and two if Santana were around.
There are also some other advantages to having Ervin on the team for the next several years. One being the potential price tag for resigning James Shields. This would give the Royals some leverage. Tell James that he can test the market as the Royals would have Santana, Guthrie, Vargas, Duffy, Ventura, Zimmer, and maybe others like Sean Manaea that might be available for the coming future. That is not to say they should definitely not sign Shields at that point, but there might be more leverage in negotiation, and less pain if he leaves.
Another part to consider is his value as a mentor. I know Shields gets a lot of credit for this, but I have heard little in the way of Santana being an example for the young members of the rotation. Yordano Ventura seemed to have a similar demeanor to Santana, very calm on the mound, maybe even stoic. That is a sharp contrast to Shields who is more the fiery competitor. Duffy seems to be more emotional like him. Of Zimmer and Manaea I don’t know, so this part of possible value is hard for me to assess.
What does a guy like Ervin Santana mean to the Royals? A lot:
- Better rotation
- Defined roles for all pitching staff
- Ability to take it slow with prospects
- Less pressure to overpay and resign James Shields
- Veteran presence for Yordano and possibly other
It doesn’t necessarily need to be Ervin Santana, but someone to slot second in the rotation changes this team significantly and we already know a little something about Santana. There is only one other pitcher of his level still sitting around waiting to be signed, Ubaldo Jimenez. Not that Paul Maholm wouldn’t be welcome in the rotation, but he is not in the same class. In the next couple of days I will work on the comparison between Santana and Jimenez so we can figure out which one to dream about.