Ervin Santana's free agency has not gone his way so far.
Santana had the best season of his career in 2013, at least ERA-wise, with a 3.24 mark over 211 innings. He showed more control than he had flashed since 2008 and a strikeout rate consistent with his career numbers. Home runs were still an issue when batters got the ball in the air, but that was less often than ever before thanks to a career-high 46.2 groundball percentage. He entered the offseason with high hopes, dreaming loudly about finding himself a five-year, $100 million deal.
But, as a wise man once said, "sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you."
Teams don't seem nearly impressed enough with Santana's 2013 campaign to forget the 5.16 ERA he posted in 2012 and the relatively average statistics that make up his career numbers. Worst of all, he earned a qualifying offer from the Royals for his efforts for them the previous season, adding the cost of a draft pick to his price tag. So, here he is, over a week into March, still looking for a home. He has long-since parted with his dream of joining the $100 million club and now he is willing to settle for just a one-year deal.
Santana's new-found self-awareness seems to be opening doors, at least. He is rumored to be drawing attention from the Blue Jays, Orioles, Rockies and Phillies. He even got a three-year offer from the Twins, who have never been known to refuse a mid-market starter a warm place in their dugout. Now that the Braves are reeling from injuries to Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, they have jumped on the Santana bandwagon as well.
Now that the 31-year-old righty has multiple suitors offering him the potential for a nice, warm pillow contract, let's take a look at his reported options to see which team can help him the most with a one-year deal.
Although the Twins are firmly in the also-ran class for 2014 and you rarely hear about a player arguing to get few years and less guaranteed money, Santana might want to seriously consider seeing if the Twins would be willing to take him for just one year. Target Field suppresses long balls more than any of the other parks he has to choose from (by Fangraphs' calculations) and home runs have always been his Achilles heel. A strong season played in obscurity for a rebuilding club might not earn him the giant payday he was dreaming of in November, but the Twins may not risk giving him another qualifying offer and being saddled with a big salary in 2015. Another season under his career 1.22 HR/9 rate would ease a number of the fears other teams might have about him and he would most likely free himself of the burden of draft-pick compensation with the small-market, rebuilding Twins.
The Blue Jays are something of a tough sell. The Rogers Centre is a hitter's park that allows a few extra fly balls to find the seats and Toronto plays in one of the toughest divisions in the game. Even if Santana feels good about his prospects for success north of the border, playing nine road games apiece at Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Camden Yards is certainly not the easiest way to rebuild your value. Toronto is a tough team to project, given its talented and fragile offense, but few people would put the club in the race for the division title and another last place finish in the AL East is a decent bet. He could also run into another qualifying offer from the Blue Jays, especially if he appears to be enough of a difference-maker to help this win-now team actually win now.
The Phillies are essentially the National League's version of the Blue Jays. They play in a home-run haven in a tough division. It isn't impossible to imagine everything breaking right for them to make a run at a Wild Card spot, but even with Santana in the rotation behind Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, they would remain a long shot. An NL East team in a tough park is better than an AL East team in a tough park, but not by much. Santana would also be running a major risk of drawing another qualifying offer if the Phillies did defy the odds and find themselves playing in October.
Most of the issues with the Blue Jays apply to Baltimore as well. They could conceivably contend for a Wild Card, but they aren't in the same class as the Rays and the Red Sox and most experts would put the Yankees ahead of them as well. Camden Yards is a hitter's park and only Coors Field has a greater effect in upping the number of left-handed home runs. Baltimore would probably benefit the most from adding Santana and that could certainly be a point in its favor. The Orioles also have a strong defense to put behind him, which might help keep his ERA in the same range as in 2013. Succeeding in the AL East would mean more for Santana than the same performance would in a place like Minnesota, and the Orioles probably give him the best chance to pull off that difficult feat.
It is hard to imagine any pitcher ever looking to rebuild his value in Coors Field. Even if the Rockies were a lock to take the NL West, this would still be a hard sell. With Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system projecting Colorado to win just 78 games, it would be reasonable to question Ervin Santana's faculties if he took a one-year deal to play there.
If it turns out that Ervin Santana has a closet full of voodoo dolls of Atlanta's pitchers in his home, it would make perfect sense. The Braves are almost the perfect fit for him, and prior to Medlen and Beachy going down it would have been difficult to imagine them throwing away a draft pick to add such a superfluous piece. Now that Santana addresses a glaring need for the Braves, the only real question is how much less he should take to play in Atlanta next season. The Braves are arguably the best team in NL East. They play in a fairly neutral home park that doesn't help players clear the fences at all and they have a strong defense anchored by Andrelton Simmons, the premiere fielding shortstop in the game.
The chance to play for the Braves on a one-year deal is too good for Santana to turn down if the offer he gets from them is anything even close to the other teams. He would stand a much better chance of duplicating his strong 2013 numbers there and he would be rebuilding his value for a team with a very real chance of playing in October. Unless his options also include the Dodgers or the Tigers, Atlanta is going to be as good as it gets.