Santana a perfect fit for Rangers' rotation
Free-agent righty would be a terrific pickup for a team in win-now mode
I'll take Ervin Santana and the Texas Rangers for a thousand, Alex. I mean, why not? This could be a partnership that sends everyone home happy, so can't we get these crazy kids together?
OK, first things first. It's very, very unlikely Santana is going to get the four-year, $50 million deal he's believed to be seeking. There's absolutely nothing unreasonable in his asking for that kind of money, especially since it's what Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez got from the Brewers and Orioles, respectively.
Santana may still get it. The Rockies are monitoring the starting-pitching market, and plenty of other teams are uncertain about their rotation. Plenty can happen between now and Opening Day, and if Santana waits, he has a chance to cash in.
Again, asking for four years and $50 million is not unreasonable. Santana is 31 years old and coming off a season in which he was 11th in innings, 20th in strikeouts, ninth in ERA and eighth in batting average among American League starters. His 3.16 strikeouts-to-walks ratio was 14th in the AL, and only Max Scherzer, James Shields and C.J. Wilson had more quality starts.
Santana's fastball averaged 92.4 mph, according to fangraphs.com, which is pretty close to what it has been for most of his career. In ways large and small, he bounced back nicely from a tough 2012 season with the Angels.
Maybe that one bad season -- 9-13, 5.16 ERA in 2012 -- scared some teams off. Maybe the Draft pick compensation was a deal breaker for a few. But Santana's track record is excellent. Between 2010-13 -- and this includes that one bad season -- he was 12th in starts, 11th in innings, 30th in strikeouts and 43rd in ERA among all pitchers with 500-plus innings.
Santana was 17th with 80 quality starts in that time, which is one more than Scherzer and two more than Zack Greinke. Only 12 pitchers allowed fewer baserunners during those four seasons.
To sum up: Santana is a very solid guy, very durable, not especially flashy, but someone who would be a terrific pickup for a team in a win-now mode. At a time when clubs value their Draft choices more than ever -- young players are the currency of choice -- Santana makes more sense for some teams than others.
Which brings us to Texas. Since winning back-to-back AL pennants in 2010 and '11, the Rangers have stumbled twice, losing the AL Wild Card Game to the Orioles in '12 and a tiebreaking 163rd regular-season game to the Rays last year.
General manager Jon Daniels has had a nice offseason, having acquired Shin-Soo Choo for the top of his lineup and Prince Fielder for the middle. No general manager did a better job addressing his needs.
And then stuff started happening. Left-hander Derek Holland injured his left knee and is gone until at least midseason. Right-hander Matt Harrison is sidelined with a sore back. When Texas went to the World Series in 2011, Harrison and Holland combined for 62 starts, 288 strikeouts and almost 400 innings. Harrison was 25, Holland 24, and the Rangers believed they'd acquire their rotation for years to come.
And the Rangers still might. In fact, they both might be back in time to carry Texas right into October. If they're not, the Rangers could be desperate for pitching. At the moment, there's pitching available. There might not be in August.
It's not just Holland and Harrison. Right-hander Alexi Ogando has been almost as good as either of them when he has been healthy. In that 2011 season, he made 29 starts, pitched 169 innings and had a 3.51 ERA. But Ogando was on the disabled list three times last season with arm and shoulder issues.
If Santana's healthy, he has the kind of stuff that can slot him right behind Yu Darvish and right alongside Martin Perez in the rotation. But until Santana shows he's capable of going to the mound for a full season, he's going to be an unknown quantity.
So for now, the Rangers can count on Darvish and Perez, who has made only 26 starts in the big leagues. That's it.
They've got an intriguing youngster in Nick Tepesch and a veteran, Tommy Hanson, in camp to try and jump-start his career. It would be a mistake to underestimate the quality of the arms in the system, but this is a club that sees itself as capable of playing deep into October. Their lineup and bullpen appear to be good enough to do just that.
To sign Santana, Texas would have to surrender the 30th pick of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft. Daniels would like to exhaust every other option before giving up a pick that high, because he has built one of baseball's most consistent winners on the shoulders of a productive farm system.
Daniels also might not be willing to give Santana four years, so some serious bargaining would have to happen. Would Santana give the Rangers a discount, say, a one-year deal that could put him on baseball's biggest stage and another crack at free agency?
Or could the two sides agree to one year and an option year? Or two years and an option year? There surely is some middle ground, because the fit seems ideal. Both sides can thank me in October.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.