Now that Ervin Santana is on the verge of apparently signing a one year deal with an American League club, there’s a lot of talk out there about how the Royals butchered the handling of this. Actually, there’s been a lot of talk about that for weeks now, but I just don’t see it that way. I’m pretty critical of the organization, so this is not a case of me putting on my blue glasses and seeing the good in the organization. Some might argue this would be my first time defending the Royals. I’d argue we’re easily on time three or four, but that’s just semantics.
Let’s go back to the start of the free agency period. The Royals extended the qualifying offer to Santana of $14.1 million. The Santana camp declined that. You’ll recall at that time that reports indicated he was looking for a five year deal worth over $100 million. We all had a good laugh and figured he’d have to settle for something around 4 years and $60 million or could get that 5th year as well, but still wouldn’t approach near $100 million. I think we can all agree that would be too much for a guy like Santana. Any arguments to the contrary would be revisionist history as I remember many people saying they wouldn’t go more than three years on a deal for Santana. I know I wouldn’t.
The Tanaka market kind of put the pitching market on hold for awhile, and there was very little action around baseball. Guys like Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Jason Vargas got their deals, but the top pitchers on the market (Garza, Santana and Jimenez) had to wait. As that market cleared up, Garza and Jimenez each signed for very similar deals paying them around $50 million over four years. It seemed the market for Santana was set. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t even want Santana on that deal. Not only is Santana an injury risk as the reports on his elbow aren’t exactly great, but Santana is and up and down kind of pitcher. He has a higher upside than just about anybody on the market, but he’s been capable of dismal seasons.
So the surprisingly slow to develop pitching market was left with just Santana looking for a four year deal and then word about his agency started coming out and it began to look like we’d pinpointed the problem. Santana was sticking to his guns late in the free agency game in spite of the fact that the market was dictating he wouldn’t get that. That’s just bad representation. If Santana had come back to the pack much sooner, I think he probably could have had a three year deal or even gotten a four year deal. He might not have gotten as much as Garza and Jimenez, but he would have gotten far more than the $14.1 million of the qualifying offer, which was really the goal in the first place.
News broke a couple days ago that Santana agreed with that above paragraph and was looking to change representation. There was some confusion, but it appeared that he would no longer be represented by Bean Stringfellow and Jay Alou would be handling his negotiation. Shortly thereafter, it became clear Santana would sign a one-year deal. Let’s stop there for a minute. At this point, I feel like the Royals did absolutely nothing wrong. They extended the qualifying offer, talked with Santana’s people, didn’t like what they were told and moved forward. A lot act as if they should have known this was going to play out this way and not move forward with their off-season. I’m not much of a fan of the Vargas deal, but they were going to signÂ somebody who people liked less than they like Santana. To wait would have been a massive risk and could have resulted in a rotation that included guys people like even less than Vargas. It just wasn’t worth the risk at that point.
Up to the point that Santana was willing to work for a one-year deal, I saw absolutely no fault in the way the Royals handled his free agency. Again, I wasn’t a huge fan of the decision they made to “replace” him, but that’s a separate argument. Now, though, Santana wants a one-year deal and I think it’s a mistake for the Royals to not be involved, money be damned. On a one-year deal, the risk of Santana’s health and volatility is minimized greatly. Him looking for a one-year deal minimizes his market greatly because very few teams are going to give up a first round draft pick to sign a guy for just one year. That means teams in the top ten with protected picks could sign him and only give up a second rounder and teams who have already signed a free agent with draft pick compensation attached could sign him and give up a second rounder or lower. And then there’s the Royals who would give up the comp pick (and the $1.8 million in slot money or so) to sign him, but would obviously retain their first round pick.
Before I get into this last part, the Royals aren’t going to sign Santana. I know that. Deep down, you know it. But here’s what I’d do.
I’d offer Santana one year and $12 million with a vesting option that vests with 190 innings pitched in 2014. The option for 2015 would be for $28.2 million. Santana would be able to decline that option and receive a $2.1 million buyout. Those numbers seem odd, right? They make it so the deal is either for one year and $14.1 million or two years and $28.2 million. He gets his qualifying offer money and the Royals get a solid pitcher to slot in the rotation this year and potentially next year while the young guys continue to develop. Again, this isn’t happening, but it’s what I do.
Up until the point Santana started looking for a one-year deal, the Royals did nothing wrong. I think they were completely innocent in the whole situation. As soon as Santana could be had for a one-year deal, though, the Royals should have jumped. Of course, we never know everything. Maybe something happened during negotiations and Santana had no interest in the Royals because they rightfully questioned his worth. That’s very possible. But if that’s not the case and Santana would have been open to a reunion with the team, he could have pushed the Royals from “sort of” contender status to legitimate contenders. That’s worth going over budget. His free agency has been fascinating and this one-year deal talk is just another turn to make this complex situation even more interesting.
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