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Santana Roundtable

In which some of the bloggers discuss the recent Santana trade.

Dustin Bradford

With the Santana trade happening yesterday, some of my fellow writers and I decided to talk amongst ourselves and debate the trade. The players are myself, RoyalsRetro and Clark.

Nick: So, the Royals Just traded Brandon Sisk for Ervin Santana. Thoughts?

Clark: It is an indictment of Dayton Moore that the Angels' number five starter, at best, immediately becomes the Royals' number one starter. That said, I like the trade in and of itself. I'm basing that feeling not so much on Santana himself, but on the following two factors:

1. There is pretty good evidence that David Glass budgets the Royals on one year cycles. Saving $30 million on payroll the last couple of years (pick a number) does not mean Glass has that money in a trust account somewhere waiting for rainy day. This $12 million is either spent in 2013 or it is never spent.

2. While there are a decent number of free agent starting pitchers out there this off-season, I believe the price is going to be silly. Sure, Scott Boras is throwing out stupid numbers to amp up the bidding, but Kyle Lohse (KYLE LOHSE!) is getting paid at least $12 million this year and probably for three years after that.

Okay, Santana. Not my first choice, not my third choice. In researching (yes, sometimes I do research) for the column I wrote on Dan Haren a couple weeks back, I actually looked at Santana's numbers and looked away. His velocity was down, home runs ridiculously up and basically Ervin was not good at all in 2012. The guy has been in the majors for basically 8 seasons: four have been good/decent and four have not. Two of those ‘good' four came in 2010 and 2011 and his rates, other than home runs, are remarkably similar over the last three. I don't think Santana is ever going to be a star, probably won't even be Gil Meche, but I think he has a chance to be a better starter than anyone not named Guthrie that the Royals trotted out there last year and were likely to send out for a full season in 2013.
On a one year deal, I don't mind this move at all.

Retro: I wholeheartedly agree that the fact Santana is a major upgrade to this rotation is a major indictment of Dayton in Year Six (going on Year Seven). This move however, undoubtedly makes the team better. Santana has had a few pretty ugly seasons, but even in those years he was about as good as the guys we have now. If Luke Hochevar went out and posted a 7-14 5.76 ERA 5.13 FIP 7.56 K/9 3.48 BB/9 season, we wouldn't bat an eye, right? Well that's Ervin's worst season.

Granted, we're paying Ervin a lot more money than Hochevar, but that should be the only thing that gives Royals fans any pause with this move. Did we pay too much? On the one hand, its just money, a commodity that we should be able to spend freely, as opposed to prospects, which we should probably hoard. On the other hand, there are as Scott McKinney points out, opportunity costs with this move. Did the $12 million we spent mean we don't have $12 million to spend on Anibal Sanchez? I would argue the totality of Dayton's moves this winter will determine whether or not this was a good move. If it is as Sam Mellinger writes, a first step followed by some larger acquisitions, then its a good first step. If its a first step followed by acquisitions of much inferior pitchers, then this winter has probably been a bust.

Nick: I'm not seeing how Santana is a major upgrade or even a minor upgrade. He would've been the worst starter in the Royals rotation last year. I know he's had some success in the past, but I see his upside as an average starting pitcher. I'm ok with acquiring an average starting pitcher, but not at $12m and not with that being his upside. Dayton Moore just blew about 15% of his entire payroll on someone who if he is in the neighborhood of last year isn't an upgrade.

The big question isn't what are we going to get out of Santana, but what could they have used that $12m on instead. This is typical Dayton Moore. Jump the gun and spend tons of money on marginal players and lose out any chance of acquiring something of real impact. And it's interesting we're comparing this new shiny $12m acquisition to someone most people want to dump in Hochevar. Their career xFIPs are pretty close and Hochevar actually had a better season last year.

Retro: Of course Santana had a terrible year last year, but if he had a decent year, he wouldn't be available right now. He has a pretty decent track record, making this a good buy-low opportunity for the Royals. I'm not sure why his upside is only "average starting pitcher" when as recently as 2011 he was a 2.9 WAR pitcher.

Yes, Santana's xFIP is pretty similar to Hochevar's, but haven't we established that Luke is just always going to be a pitcher that underperforms his xFIP for whatever reason? He has yet to even come close to his xFIP in five full seasons. And if we're using xFIP as an indicator of true talent level, Santana's 2012 was not nearly so bad (4.48 xFIP).

I agree that this is typical in Dayton to jump the gun on spend money before the market has had a chance to play out, but a decision had to be made on Santana (and Dan Haren) by Friday, so I think this is a bit more understandable.

Do you guys place any credence in Santana's late run of success over the last two months of 2012 or should we dismiss it as statistical noise? If the Royals sign Jeremy Guthrie, are they revamping their rotation based on ten starts in August and September?

Nick: I'm not convinced that Guthrie is the savior, but his late run of success was certainly helped by changing parks. He returned to career norms when he left Colorado. I wouldn't 100% discount what Santana did but I wouldn't consider it the same as Guthrie.

One thing here which is key is that Santana is 29 years old and Dayton Moore incorrectly believes that this is the beginning of peak age for a pitcher rather than the beginning of the end. Dayton and company believe that last year is absolutely a blip and it's just faulty analysis. This move encompasses everything that is wrong with Royals management. They have no idea how to evaluate and acquire Major League talent and are paranoid that they refuse to believe anything other than their own faulty ideas.

This move reeks of desperation. Could the Royals or anyone else signed Santana for cheaper as a free agent? I believe so. I bet you could've had two years of Santana for $12m. But the Royals are so scared of actually going and working the free agency system that they shoot their wad early. They just have no clue how to do this at all.

So I guess my analysis of this trade is probably inherently biased by who is doing it. But that bias is backed up by years of facts now.

Clark: I would put a fair amount of faith (or maybe wager a decent dollar amount is the better phrase) in Santana's August and September performance in 2012. Sure, we have all been jaded by Luke Hochevar's occasional competenence and a couple of Kyle Davies Septembers that seemed to indicate good things were just around the corner that so few in this organization seem to be able to turn.

In Santana, however, you have multiple of 200 inning seasons of good pitching - not consistent year to year I admit, but substaintial periods of success. Before a flat out awful last start of the year, Ervin (and maybe the worst part of this trade is that a fanbase that struggled to spell 'Zack' correctly is certainly going to spend the year calling him Irving) had gone six innings or more in nine straight starts and allowed two earned runs or less in seven of them. Along the way (59.1 innings), he struck out 54, walked 15 and allowed 38 hits (12 home runs!). If he can pull that home run rate (18% HR/FB last year) down, I'm optimistic that there are some solid innings every fifth day out of him in 2013.

Could that $12 million hinder future moves? Maybe. However, Greinke was not signing here and we didn't want Lohse to. I have a hard time seeing Anibal Sanchez get out of Detroit. Honestly, I'd give Sanchez 5/$75, but the Royals were not going to with or without trading for Santana. Everybody's got warts after that, albeit many at a cheaper price.

In the end, I just believe that the prices on the free agent market this off-season are going to reflect the soon to be coming increased revenue to all teams and also the number of teams that think they are 'close' to contending. It will do so in both annual salary and years of contract. Under those assumptions, 1/$12 for Santana, while high, is not horrific.

Nick: You're banking a lot on Dayton Moore's ability to read the market, which he's famously bad at. So we have the Royals reading the market one way and the Angels reading it completely different. Based on past results, I'm comfortable putting my money on the Angels here.

I look at this as a simple equation. The Royals have a budget of around $76m for 2012. Before arbitration they have already spent about $36m. They have seven arbitration eligible players which might conservatively cost about $15m. We're now at $51m in payroll which leaves $25m available this off season. Dayton just blew half of that on a marginal improvement and now have enough to maybe get another marginal player when they have done nothing to improve the offense.

If Dayton Moore would stop doing these dumb deals he'd have a lot more money available. For example if he'd have not signed Bruce Chen and Francoeur to multi-year deals, he'd have another $11.25m available this year. Had that been done the Royals could have $36.25m available for this season alone. Now THAT gets you an impact pitcher. Instead Dayton spreads around his minimal resources on players he could get cheaper elsewhere.

So maybe Santana is a minor upgrade and maybe the money isn't that big of a deal, but in the big picture it's just more evidence of poor thinking and a terrible strategy to build a ball club.

Clark: The Angels are in a different position than the Royals. They have a legitimate shot to sign Greinke and are freeing space to do just that. Plus they have Weaver and Wilson already in the fold. They don't need to spend $12 million on Santana. I don't think it has anything to do with the two organizations reading the market differently.

Offensively, the Royals (dumb signings or not) were not planning to and nor should they have been planning to spend any significant money. That's a non-starter. They don't need to spend money in the bullpen (although Dayton surely will at some point, he can't help himself) and hence the entire $25 million can go to starting pitching. In that vein, the Royals still have $13 million, which would theoretically put them in play for any of the non-Sanchez, non-Greinkes.

Nick: Ok, so I think this is where we're at on the deal.

Me: Hate

Clark: Decent, but not great.

Retro: Meh

If you're ok with that characterization of your opinion. I'm interested in whether you think this is the biggest move of the offseason or if there is more to come. How does this move fit into the larger off season picture and what's next?

Clark: A good characterization for me. I don't think this is the biggest move. Well, it might be in 2013 salary, but I believe there is another starter coming (via trade or free agency), possibly for more than just one season and hence it will have a longer term effect on the organization than Santana.

Retro: I think meh is fair, although I was in the "decent" category earlier.

I agree with Craig that I don't think any of the top tier guys (Greinke, Sanchez, Lohse) were ever a serious possibility for us and that we are in for a silly-season for player contracts this winter (Crazy Uncle Ned Coletti is already pacing the field). I think Santana is an overpay at 1/$12 mill, but not a serious overpay and I expect the Royals to have to overpay in financial terms.

Am I concerned this will inhibit Dayton's ability to make moves the rest of the winter? Absolutely. But I'm not totally convinced there were a lot of better moves to make. I think its pretty clear Dayton feels he has more work to do this winter. And it sounds like the common sentiment is this transaction will best be judged when we see what Dayton comes up with.

Nick: In essence I agree with you guys, but I don't like the idea of just assuming the Royals can't go get talented players. They absolutely can't get anyone big now, but that's because of signings like Francoeur, Chen and Santana. My final analysis is that the Royals have spent most of their available cash and have nothing to show for it but an aging starting pitcher who is declining in velocity and effectiveness.

My prediction for the rest of the off-season is another mediocre starting pitcher who is less exciting than Santana and some second basemen who is somehow worse than Getz or Giavotella. Dayton droned on and on today on the radio about character, clubhouse and what kind of mentality and man a player is. By his words and his actions he's ignored the actual baseball talent of players. This is the big splash people were hoping for and it's a jumpstart to another disappointing season. My only positive spin is that this move might be the one that eventually gets Dayton Moore fired.