Wednesday, March 1, 2017

What Do Twins Have In Santiago?

Last season, the Minnesota Twins jettisoned Ricky Nolasco to the Los Angeles Angeles. The move was widely applauded as it purged Nolasco's contract from Minnesota and got him out of the rotation. What was overlooked however, was that former top prospect Alex Meyer was thrown in, and Hector Santiago was coming back to the Twins.

There's no kind way to put it, Nolasco was a disaster in Minnesota. Terry Ryan over-extended himself by spending on starting pitching that had almost no chance of paying off. In trading Nolasco to the Angels though, Minnesota simply took on a similar pitcher. Hector Santiago was awarded $8 million through arbitration, and the club is still paying the Angels $4 million of Nolasco's salary this season. Essentially they gave up Alex Meyer simply to get a team to take Nolasco off their hands.

Santiago came over to Minnesota in the midst of a hot streak, and there was some thought he could pitch right around the high water level he'd established. What ended up taking place however, was 11 starts to the tune of a 5.58 ERA and a 5.82 FIP. His strikeout numbers plummeted and he gave up 13 homers in those starts.

Although Santiago was an All Star in 2015, his recent career has always had reason for concern. In his All Star campaign, he gave up a league leading 29 homers, and then backed that up with 33 in 2016. He also surrendered a league leading (and career worst) 79 walks last season. For a guy that's never thrown over 182 innings, and owns a 4.84 FIP since 2014, he's got very few things going in his favor.

Since his 2011 debut with the White Sox, Santiago's velocity has fallen off as well. Topping out at a 93.8 mph fastball then, he's fallen to hovering right around 90 mph last season, and routinely sitting there is a stretch. His contact rate checked in at 81.8% last season, which was it's highest since 2014. If there's a level of consistency, it's found in Santiago's swing and miss stuff, which has routinely generated an 8% mark throughout his career.

The reality though, when looking at the sum of all parts, is that the Twins are going to be asking a lot from a guy they already have cemented into their rotation. There's real reason to believe that Santiago could be among the Twins worst pitchers this season. He serves up dingers at an alarming rate, his velocity has dipped, and his command has waned. He could be helped out by the boost that Jason Castro will serve over Kurt Suzuki, but he's going to need a significant jump.

If Santiago wasn't the Twins return for Nolasco, or frankly if he had a different name on the back of his jersey, you'd be able to make a real argument he'd struggle to make this club. Considering top prospect Jose Berrios has little to prove in the minors at this point, running him out there more consistently would provide more long term benefit.

As things stand. Paul Molitor and the Twins are going to be forced to choose between Trevor May, Berrios, Adalberto Mejia, Justin Haley, Ryan Vogelsong, and Nick Tepesch for one spot. There's absolutely some guys in that group that will be filtered out, but on numbers alone, there isn't a reason to suggest Santiago is better than the bulk of the group. Having to settle for him no matter what ties the hands of the Twins rotation a bit, and it was already not in a good place.

Maybe everything gets turned on its head, and Santiago's first full year in Minnesota allows him to acclimate and things go incredibly well. Looking at the numbers he's put up, and the way things have trended for him though, that's a pretty big ask. Hector Santiago is going to be in the Twins rotation, but he may just be another form of Ricky Nolasco.

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