Tuesday, June 28, 2016

In Trading Santana, Twins Can Start Over

As the Minnesota Twins continue their run through the 2016 Major League Baseball season, it's more than apparent to label them as sellers when the July 31st trade deadline rolls around. Terry Ryan and Paul Molitor will have to decide who sticks going forward, but no one not named Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton should be considered off limits on the 25 man roster. It sounds like the piece that may draw the most interest could be starting pitcher Ervin Santana.

Recently, the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo reported that an American League assistant GM told him that Santana is seen as "perhaps the most viable trade deadline pickup on the market." It's interesting that this information comes from Cafardo. Not because he's been unreliable in the past, but instead, Cafardo's assigned Red Sox could definitely use some starting help. With that reality in play, it's fair to assume he may be pretty clued in to the starting market.

So, if the Twins are actually going to grab some offers for Ervin Santana, what can we actually expect? Right now, Santana is in just the second year of a four-year deal paying him $55 million. At 33 years old, he's not merely a rental, and a contending team could do considerably worse. In his time with the Twins, Santana has started 31 games and posted a 4.27 ERA. It's almost identically in line with his 4.29 FIP and inflated due to a 1.357 WHIP. His 6.6 K/9 isn't going to light the world on fire, but his 2.9 BB/9 has been more than acceptable. A middle of the rotation starter, you'll get what you expect with Santana.

Having pitched in both the American and National (briefly) Leagues, Santana's stuff should play just fine no matter where he ends up. His fastball velocity has remained consistent the past two seasons with Minnesota, if not even slightly experiencing an increase. Looking back through his career at his contact and chase rates, he's been virtually the same pitcher for the duration of his 12 big league seasons.

In return for a pitcher like Santana, the Twins probably should do better than a throwaway prospect. Again, he's not a rental, and a veteran with his pedigree should truly be able to help a contending team down the stretch. He's not going to bring back a massive haul, but if he emerges as one of the better options on the market, Minnesota should have a few returns to choose from.

Arguably the best thing trading Santana allows the Twins to do is start over, and aim higher. Terry Ryan has made a habit (and it's a bad one) of going after middling options in free agency. It's time that someone new step in, and deviate from that strategy. In moving on from Santana, the Twins shed some significant salary requirements, and immediately open up a spot in the starting rotation.

Ideally, it's Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco that the Twins are able to move on from first, but that isn't a realistic possibility. The level of mediocrity achieved in inking them to free agent deals (and in extending Hughes) really hamstrung the Twins immediate future. While Santana is a middling option, he's still head and shoulders above the bet that was the two aforementioned names. Trading Santana though allows the process to start.

Once Santana is out of the picture, the Twins have an immediate opening in the starting rotation to be claimed by Jose Berrios. It allows him to settle in through 2016 and lay claim to a 2017 Opening Day spot. From there, you'd like to see Minnesota parlay Hughes and Nolasco into a one contract, top of the rotation starter. The caveat is that neither come off the books a season from now (Nolasco 2017, Hughes 2019). Looking at the landscape of what's available however, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

The starting pitching market in 2017 was Stephen Strasburg and everyone else. Now inked to a long term deal by the Nationals, the Twins need to be saved from themselves by overspending and overreaching yet again. In keeping Hughes and Nolasco for another year, the 2017 club could have another hot name at deadline time. While there isn't a ton of ideal options in 2018 either, Minnesota could chose to commit the $100+ million they have tied up in Hughes and Nolasco to one top tier option.

What the Twins do in the future remains a pretty significant mystery. Half of the equation is whether or not Terry Ryan gets to orchestrate what happens going forward (and the hope would be that he doesn't). What they can't do though is continue to operated along the same lines as they did to get to the place they are now. Ryan has committed over $150 million to three pitchers who all are no more than a middle-rotation starter on a playoff club.

Santana's time appears to be done, and with it should go the mindset that brought him in.

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