Monday Rockpile: Ervin Santana and the stagnant National League

Jason Miller

The Rockies are one of several teams interested Ervin Santana's services, and if you look at the National League as a whole, that idea starts to look very tempting.

The Rockies may not be done shopping this winter. Last night, Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish reported that Colorado is one of eight teams showing interest in signing free agent Ervin Santana. While it's still very early in this process and the Rockies are still very unlikely to land this target, I wouldn't dismiss the possibility entirely.

Santana's price is being driven down by the qualifying offer the Royals slapped on him last fall, meaning that any new team who signs him is going to be giving up a draft pick. For the Rockies, it would be their Competitive Balance Round pick which is likely to fall somewhere around the 35th selection when all the dust settles. This gives the club a slight advantage over several other teams that would have to surrender a pick in the teens and twenties as well as the slot money that goes with it.

The more relevant discussion however may be if we even want this to happen. I have very mixed emotions myself. On one hand, sliding Santana into the rotation and bumping Nicasio to either the bullpen or Colorado Springs would really give this team some serious rotation depth. A starting five of Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa, Tyler Chatwood, Brett Anderson, and Ervin Santana would give you a decent chance to win just about every day. If you start thinking about it in these terms for more than a couple of minutes, it's starts to seem like a really good idea, especially when you consider that Santana's averaged 200 innings pitched over the last six seasons.

However, I also see several drawbacks. First and foremost is the high likelihood of a large regression from his 2013 performance. This isn't to say I expect him to be terrible, but a league average starter seems more likely to me in 2014 than a repeat of the excellent production he gave the Royals last season. The biggest red flag is the .268 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) opponents had against him in a Kansas City uniform; and while he has held opponents to a .284 BABIP over his career, I see no way of avoiding a large rise in this department if he changes his address to 2001 Blake Street.

There's also the money which is largely a mystery at this stage. The qualifying offer will certainly drive the price down, but Santana still won't come cheap, and even a decent sized deal here could limit Colorado's ability to retain key players in a couple of the upcoming off seasons. On top of this, I also would hate to lose that draft pick as the Rockies have been very successful at scooping up solid talent in this region of the draft the last few seasons. Their last four picks to fall between #34 and #46 (which is very close to the two slots their second and third pick could fall in this June's draft) are Rex Brothers, Trevor Story, Eddie Butler, and Ryan McMahon - And don't forget, the 2014 draft is expected to be deeper in talent than any where the Rockies picked up these guys.

So those are the basic pros and cons for a potential Erivin Santana signing, but there's one other large scale point I want to focus on here today which makes the thought of Santana in the rotation even more tempting. Take a look at the list of all the free agent contracts signed this off season for over $20 million total. Here's the deals from largest to smallest to the best of my knowledge...

1) Robinson Cano: Mariners - 10 years, $240 million (12/6/13)

2) Masahiro Tanaka: Yankees - 7 years, $155 million (1/22/14)

3) Jacoby Ellsbury: Yankees - 7 years, $153 million (12/3/13)

4) Shin-Soo Choo: Rangers - 7 years, $130 million (12/21/13)

5) Brian McCann: Yankees - 5 years, $85 million (11/23/13)

6) Jose Abreu: White Sox - 6 years, $68 million (10/29/13)

7) Curtis Granderson: Mets - 4 years, $60 million (12/6/13)

8) Jhonny Peralta: Cardinals - 4 years, $53 million (11/24/13)

9) Matt Garza: Brewers - 4 years, 50 million (1/26/14)

10) Ricky Nolasco: Twins - 4 years, $49 million (11/27/13)

11) Carlos Beltran: Yankees - 3 years, $45 million (12/6/13)

12) Jason Vargas: Royals - 4 years, $32 million (11/21/13)

13) Mike Napoli: Red Sox - 2 years, $32 million (12/6/13)

14) Omar Infante: Royals - 4 years, 30.25 million (12/13/13)

15) Scott Feldman: Orioles - 3 years, $30 million (12/6/13)

16) Carlos Ruiz: Phillies - 3 years, $26 million (11/18/13)

17) Phil Hughes: Twins - 3 years, $24 million (11/3013)

18) Tim Hudson: Giants - 2 years, $23 million (11/18/13)

19) Scott Kazmir: A's - 2 years, $22 million (12/2/13)

20) Jarrod Saltalamacchia: Marlins - 3 years, $21 million (12/3/13)

21) James Loney: Rays - 3 years, $21 million (12/13/13)

Before looking at the data in detail, I just picked $20 million in my head as a decent bar to cross. However, if I really wanted to highlight the hypothesis which drove me to look up these numbers, I probably should have placed the cutoff at $30 million.

Take a closer look at those top 15 free agent contracts handed out. All but three of them are from American League teams, and that includes the Matt Garza deal that just went through for Milwaukee.

Only seven National League teams won more than 76 games last season (Cardinals, Braves, Dodgers, Pirates, Reds, Nationals, and D'Backs), and as a group, they've done very little to get better. Knowing this, take just one more look at the list of free agent contracts handed out for over $20 million. Not only are you only going to find six National League teams there, but the Cardinals are still the only club in this league to win over 76 games last season to appear on the list. The other deals made by the Brewers, Mets, Phillies, Giants, and Marlins are in an attempt to launch those clubs back into contention, not raise the bar of a playoff team even higher.

The point I'm getting at here is that a National League playoff spot might be very attainable this season. While the American League is certainly going to feel some pain on the back end of a few of those large contracts, those teams as a group have absolutely done more to get better in the short term, and that potentially opens to door for teams like the Rockies, especially if Ervin Santana is in the rotation.

Links

Baseball Prospectus released their list of the top 101 prospects in the game this morning and four Rockies made it. Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler both ranked very high at #16 and #26 overall while Raimel Tapia and David Dahl just cracked the list at #97 and #100. It's nice to have these guys on this list, but what's even more refreshing is the fact that only Eddie Butler has played above High A Modesto, and that was only for six games. In other words, these guys can soar even higher on this list as they get closer to the majors.

Comparing the current rankings to previous seasons, the Rockies had three players make the list in 2013 (Trevor Story at #34, David Dahl at #40, and Nolan Arenado at #57), five in 2012 (Nolan Arenado at #20, Drew Pomeranz at #34, Wilin Rosario at #61, Chad Bettis at #79, and Tim Wheeler at #97), two in 2011 (Tyler Matzek at #34 and Wilin Rosario at #36), two in 2010 (Christian Friedrich at #22 and Tyler Matzek at #23), and three in 2009 (Dexter Fowler #12, Jhoulys Chacin at #27, and Wilin Rosario at #45).

If you're wondering about the rest of the division, the Dodgers have four players on the list, the D'Backs and Padres each have three, and the Giants have just one.

Tulo is excited about 2014. He's now a year and a half removed from the groin surgery that wrecked his 2012 and has been able to concentrate more on baseball activities as opposed to rehab this winter. If his body doesn't betray him again, I think this could be the year he puts together that truly monstrous season.

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