Saturday, April 4, 2015

Ervin Santana And His Wrench

In this Tuesday March 3, 2015 file photo, Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Ervin Santana (54) throws batting practice at baseball spring training in Fort Myers, Fla. (Photo by The Associated Press)
Friday afternoon, just days away from the Twins heading to Detroit to take on the Tigers and open the 2015 Major League Baseball season, free agent pitcher Ervin Santana was popped with an 80 game suspension. He was caught for using an oral steroid, Stanozolol. With the news, the Twins immediately have a different outlook for not only their rotation, but the upcoming season as a whole.
A situation such as the one that the Twins have been put in due to the poor decision making of Santana has somewhat of a ripple effect. There are quite a few factors at play here, and they add up to what should make for an interesting summer. First, Santana himself. His press release following the news toed a similar song and dance. He suggested that he had no idea how he ingested an oral steroid, and the he "needs to be more careful as to what he consumes in his home country." Of course that's the storyline, however thinly veiled it is. At this point, how and why don't matter. He's been paid, he's a part of the organization going forward, but the Twins will be without his services for the next 80 games.

That leads us to his replacement, and there may be more reason for frustration here than any other. Not minutes after the news regarding Santana broke, Paul Molitor announced that it would be Mike Pelfrey replacing him in the starting rotation. Earlier in the week, Pelfrey was "demoted" to the bullpen after the club announced that he wound up finishing third out of three when it came to the fifth starter competition. Both Tommy Milone and Trevor May were given one last prove it start, while the club decided that Pelfrey was not a viable option. A temper tantrum ensued, which then turned more cordial as Pelfrey realized the writing was on the wall. Now, whether a by-product of timing or indecision, the Twins have contradicted their initial decision and skip over May for the sake of Pelfrey.
With the decision, the unfortunate reality is not that Pelfrey is now a starter for the Twins. What happened however is Minnesota organizationally contradicted a decision they made just a week earlier. Suggesting that it was May, not Pelfrey who gave them a better chance to win, the move is a puzzling one. In fairness, Pelfrey was strong this spring, and looked more than capable. He's battled back from injury and looks healthy for the first time in years. With the upside of an average at best pitcher however, the Twins once again balk on a higher ceiling and go against what they had seemingly decided.

From an overall pitching standpoint, the loss of Santana may actually provide long-term value. Although it is Pelfrey who gets the first crack, there are no two fluid rotation spots if pitchers should falter. Both Milone and Pelfrey become replaceable in the right circumstances. For the Twins, this means that both May and Alex Meyer could get looks sooner than initially anticipated. An 80 game suspension is virtually half of the season, and while I expected both prospects to be in the majors prior to that time, now it would seem certain. The development gained by having forced the Twins to accelerate them, should prove vital for both players advancement going forward.

Looking at the team as a whole, Santana's loss probably doesn't hurt the bottom line as much as perceived. As I noted in an earlier post, despite the strong spring, there was plenty of reason for skepticism in 2015. Now without his services for half of the season, the greatest impact will likely be felt on the top end. I have had the Twins winning 79 games all offseason, and I'm going to stick with that number. Where the deficiency may be felt is in the club trying to elevate past that mark. If the Twins upside was surprising some and pushing for a wild card spot, they would need to win somewhere near 85 games. Considering the roster shuffle, that may now be a tall task. This club is still markedly better than a season ago, and I believe they remain out of the final spot in the AL Central.

At the end of the day, Minnesota has just one spring training contest left before the end of the season. Losing a star offseason acquisition is by no means ideal, but it still doesn't launch the Twins into the ability level they have been in the previous four seasons. The shuffle should push for those trades from within to come a little sooner, and the Twins will no doubt be getting a good pitcher back on July 4. A poor decision, compounded by poor timing could spell disaster, but the Twins have some options.

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