Entering 2017, Santana will be 34 years old, and still have two years left on his contract (as well as a 2019 team option). He's coming off a season in which he posted his best ERA since 2013, and was nothing short of dominant for stretches during the year. Over his final 18 starts, he tallied a 2.41 ERA and allowed opposing hitters just a .589 OPS against him. For the Twins, Santana represented an ace.
The unfortunate reality however is that Minnesota still lost a franchise worst 103 games. Santana was only given enough run support to record a 7-11 win/loss record over his 30 starts, and in the grand scheme of the season, his strong year did little to elevate the club to any new heights. To summarize, Paul Molitor's club lost consistently despite Santana's efforts.
On the mound, his numbers were backed by physical prowess as well. His 92.7 mph average fastball velocity was the hardest he has thrown since 2008 with the Angels. The Dominican native was generating over a 10% swinging strike rate for just the fourth time in his career, and he was allowing one of the lowest contact rates of his big league tenure at 78.8%. Again, despite the Twins not seeing any success, the opposite was true with Ervin Santana.
Now the idea on dealing Brian Dozier is that he's a luxury for the Twins. They aren't in a position to make a playoff run any time in the immediate future, and Dozier is coming off a great season in which he should command a nice return. If the Twins are looking to accumulate talent, trading a player like Dozier at this point in time is exactly how you do it. What's interesting is that many of the same principles apply to Ervin Santana.
Sure, Santana is just under five years older than Minnesota's second basemen. He also is owed at least $28 million over the next three years as opposed to Dozier's $15 million. What Santana does have going for him though is a market void of pitching options, and teams starving for them. This offseason, Rich Hill was given just shy of $50 million after spending part of 2015 pitching in Indy Ball. One rule is always true, teams will pay for pitching and even moreso when there is little to be had.
It's possible, though rather unlikely, that the Twins make the playoffs in the next two seasons. They don't have the pieces to make a deep run, and Ervin Santana doesn't push the envelope significantly farther than the position the club would be in without him. That brings us to what should be a realization that he's an expendable asset. While Minnesota doesn't have pitching on its own, flipping Santana for a prospect or two that pairs with the timeline of the club's ability to compete makes a lot of sense.
You can make the argument that Santana may have value around the July trade deadline with the Twins having paid more of his contract. However, he's coming off his best performance in years, and any steps backwards could negate the monetary gain. If I'm the Twins, I'd be equally as aggressive in shopping Santana as they have been on Dozier, obviously knowing the return will be different.
When you don't have pitching it's tough to compete, but hanging onto depreciating assets to create the illusion you have pieces doesn't make a ton of sense either. Minnesota would be best served to get something back for Santana before it's too late.