The Kansas City Royals landed starter Ervin Santana from the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday, in exchange for minor leaguer Brandon Sisk. The Royals will also receive $1 million to help off-set a bit of Santana’s $13 million salary for 2013. In adding Santana, GM Dayton Moore showed that not only are the Royals on the lookout for starting pitching, but, unlike previous years, they aren’t simply sitting back and digging through the bargain bins; they’re willing to take on salary to get it.
The Royals have been down this road before when they added Jonathan Sanchez a year ago. Sanchez, like Santana this year, was coming off a down year with the Giants, but one that was hampered by injuries. Of course, Sanchez was an absolute mess in Kansas City and the Royals were fortunate to swap him out for Jeremy Guthrie mid-way through the season; rescuing Guthrie from career-suicide that takes place in Coors Field. Ironically, Guthrie was for the Royals what Sanchez was supposed to be; a quality veteran arm in the middle of the rotation.
In adding Santana, Moore’s Royals are making a much smarter bet than the one they made last year. Sanchez’s problem was that he went from a guy who struggled with walks to a guy who even Dontrelle Willis felt bad for. Santana’s issue last year was the 39 home runs he allowed. Sanchez’s issues haven’t been correctable as of yet, but Santana’s are likely to largely fix themselves. While Sanchez was a shot in the dark, Santana looks like a savvy move.
Santana is a fly ball pitcher (or at least he was for the majority of his career), so he naturally is more prone to giving up home runs than most hurlers. That said, even in his worst season prior to 2012, Santana never allowed more than 27 homers in a season and the most he’d ever allowed per nine innings was 1.55. His career average coming into last year was just 1.1 homer per nine innings. In 2012, Santana gave up nearly two long balls (1.97) per nine innings which, according to Fangraphs, was 20% higher than the next highest rate in the majors.
It wasn’t even that Santana gave up significantly more fly balls in 2012 than in previous years, either. In fact, his fly ball rate actually decreased for the second consecutive year in 2012, but his home-run-to-fly-ball-rate was much higher than his career norms. Almost 19 percent of fly balls that Santana allowed in 2012 left the yard, and this happened while pitching half his games in Anaheim, which is not exactly a bandbox. Kauffman Stadium is a tough place for hitters as well, so there’s little reason to think Santana’s poor season was anything but an anomaly and he’s likely to bounce back into a fine starting pitcher in Kansas City next year.
In adding Santana, who joins Chris Volstad as newcomers to the rotation, Moore could be done upgrading his starting pitching if he’d like. Kansas City can use those two plus left hander Bruce Chen, righty Luis Mendoza, and right hander Luke Hochevar to round out their rotation. They could also make a play to re-sign Guthrie, who will probably have to settle on a one-year deal and for less than the $8.2 million he made in 2012.
Of course, the upgrades don’t have to stop with Santana. Hochevar, in particular, has been frustrating Royals fans seemingly since day one and last season was another where he showed flashes of greatness, but those were too few and far between. Hochevar wound up [posting an ERA well over five-and-a-half but will be due a raise through arbitration. The act may very well be wearing thin enough that the Royals could consider non-tendering their former first round pick.
The Royals will be without left hander Danny Duffy and righty Felipe Paulino, both of whom underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012, so they shouldn’t be counted upon next season. The Royals have a pile of arms inching closer and closer to the major leagues, most of which will have better pure talent than some of the lower-end veteran starters on the market (which is where I’d place Hochevar and Mendoza). If the Royals think 2013 is the year they challenge for the post-season, however, it will be difficult to stomach the idea of going into the season with a couple of starters who are unproven, no matter how talented they are.
Despite the uncharacteristic spending by the Royals in adding $12 million in salary with Santana, , they’ve done a fine job in keeping costs down by locking up young players to team-friendly deals. In all likelihood, there’s enough left in David Glass’ checking account to land another arm. If they do that, they go into next year without having to count on rookies to learn on the job while trying to walk down the Tigers and White Sox in the Central.