There would seem to be more at stake for the Toronto Blue Jays when it comes to signing Ervin Santana or not than just the marginal value he can provide the 2014 edition of the club, though that alone could legitimately be huge.
It may not, of course. Santana’s addition may only push them from being an 84-win team to an 86-win team, or a 79-win one to a 81-win one. Shit, they may already have enough talent, and have made up for enough of last year’s value leakage to be legitimately in the playoff conversation as constituted. No, really, it could happen! But just a little extra push could be vital.
You’d hate to be Alex Anthopoulos looking back in September at what this team could have been with just another couple of wins. And if you’re him and you don’t believe those to be relevant-enough to matter, what the hell are you doing with this club in the first place, and why didn’t you spend this winter retooling it significantly?
The GM should think this team is good enough for those couple of extra wins to mean something, and while they certainly may be able to skate through the AL East somehow without them, thanks presumably to projection-busting sources like Drew Hutchison or Marcus Stroman, the line about believing so much in the club’s internal options has lost nearly all of its power to compel now that it’s no longer being uttered to provide cover for those legitimately wary of this club giving a four-year deal to a guy like Santana.
Some fans don’t seem to believe that Santana is worth acquiring at any cost, citing his negative-WAR 2012 season with the Angels and his home run tendencies as reasons to avoid him. They may have even been right about those red flags when the question was whether or not to risk a four-year commitment guaranteeing Santana more total money going forward than anyone on the roster save for Jose Reyes.
Without the commitment, however, it’s much easier to feel good about the possibility that he can sustain the success he had keeping the ball in the ballpark last year with his sinker/two-seamer (FanGraphs‘ data shows that just 4.0% of his pitches in 2013 were of the two-seam variety, but at Brooks Baseball they show major sinker usage unlike anything he’d done in the past), and that much of his 2012 disaster was due to injury. Royals Review wrote about that when he joined Kansas City last year, noting his velocity drop over the course of the 2012 season, and especially in the second half. That fastball velocity came back in 2013, and, in fact, Santana threw his slider as hard as he had since his 6.0 WAR 2008 season, as well. (Yes, Santana has a six win season in his track record).
All those sliders and the associated injury risk, coupled with what we’ve been led to believe are some scary looking medical files on Santana’s elbow, are concerns, but they’re again mitigated significantly when the Jays are simply looking at a one-year deal.
That doesn’t mean there’s no risk — the Jays were still beholden enough to and intrigued enough by the potential of Josh Johnson last season to run him out there 16 times as he compiled a horrific rWAR of -1.5 in 2013 — but there is certainly more reason to think that Santana will go right than there is to think that of Stroman right out of the chute, or Redmond, or Rogers, or Happ, or Drabek — who Keith Law, in his latest at ESPN.com says yesterday showed “average to below-average stuff across the board” — or Hutchison.
He’s not a panacea, but Santana indisputably would help this club, and such obviousness is not only apparent to just us fans. In his latest at Fox Sports, Ken Rosenthal writes that the Jays players are getting involved.
Ervin Santana’s friends on the Toronto Blue Jays texted a photo to his cell phone, adding to their intense lobbying effort to persuade the free-agent right-hander to join their team.
The photo was of Jays players holding a poster.
“Come to Toronto,” the poster said.
The story, as related by a source, reflects the advantage that the Jays hold over other clubs in the recruitment of Santana. Six players on the Jays’ projected 25-man roster hail from Santana’s native Dominican Republic. Three of those players — right fielder Jose Bautista, shortstop Jose Reyes and first baseman Edwin Encarnacion – are among the team’s biggest stars.
That stuff ought to make one slightly less squeamish than Saturday’s Jon Morosi piece, also from Fox Sports, in which Jose Bautista was publicly lobbying the team to go and sign his friend, and it shows what was exactly supposed to be an advantage the Jays aimed to hold when they focused their operations more deeply on Latin America after Alex Anthopoulos assumed control of the organization. Yet here they are, seemingly not using it — though, really, I suppose it’s too early to say that.
I berated fans mindlessly urging the club to just go and offer one of the available pitchers however much it would take to get them signed back when the terms being discussed were far, far less favourable than the ones now. The money currently on the table changes the equation a little bit, I think, but the original point still stands: there’s no sense in their spending more than they have to just to sign a player on some arbitrary timeline. What matters is actually getting the deal done, and being willing to do what it takes to get the player’s name on a contract when push comes to shove and he’s actually ready to make a decision.
We haven’t reached that point yet, but as Rosenthal points out, the waters can muddy quickly. The Braves’ Kris Medlen left yesterday’s game with a forearm strain and is undergoing an MRI today, with worries of a potential Tommy John surgery on the minds of all concerned. Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal Constitution suggests that, as badly as the Braves need Medlen, “there’s probably no money left to bring in somebody from the outside now, and there’s no reason to believe the organization will change course in philosophy since they didn’t show any desire to spend in the winter.” They’re still a possibility (even if they did just land former Jays prospect Zach Stewart), but even if that specific possibility is remote, their predicament with Medlen illustrates how quickly things can change.
Plus, a team like Atlanta, or anyone else with a sudden need in their rotation — not to mention the suddenly spend-happy Orioles — may have an advantage over the Jays in terms of perception. They’re actually showing themselves to be serious about winning. The Dominican guys on the Jays may be Santana’s friends, but ballplayers feeling they need to lobby a financial behemoth to open up the chequebook and help them add some potentially crucial marginal value — not only on the field, but in terms of marketing viability and consumer confidence, as well — isn’t a terribly good sign about where an organization is going, and maybe that weighs more than the personal relationships to a guy who could in actuality be making a multi-year commitment to the organization, depending on whether he gets language added to his contract about not being given a qualifying offer next winter or not.
Maybe that’s overstating it a little bit. The Jays would have the sixth-highest payroll in baseball if they made the reported $14-million move for Santana, and that’s especially impressive given where the budget has generally been throughout the Rogers era. But it still doesn’t even feel like enough, if only because it doesn’t feel like there’s quite enough talent on this roster, and that obvious, easy upgrades are available, having essentially fallen into the organization’s lap. Certainly the players don’t feel like enough has been done, and their contentment, or lack thereof, is a concern too — though also definitely one that it’s easy to overstate.
Still, though, it’s all up in the air. This story may yet have a happy ending for the Jays. The problem is, ”may” isn’t good enough. It should have the right ending — no excuses. The ending that buoys the team. The ending that restores flagging consumer confidence. The ending that adds much-needed marginal on-field value. The ending that likely vaults the Jays into a near dead heat with the Rays and Yankees in the playing time-adjusted projections at FanGraphs. The ending that, somehow, after all this, lets Alex Anthopoulos emerge from the off-season smelling almost like a winner.
It’s about much more than just the individual player himself now that we know how close they are and how low the cost has become.