Always looking for arms to strengthen their starting rotation depth, and always willing to gamble on a well paid hurler in desperate need of a bounce back season to fill the need, the Kansas City Royals acquired 29-year-old right-hander Ervin Santana from the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday afternoon.
Santana, who posted a highly disappointing 5.16 ERA in 30 starts this past season, has been on the trading block since July due to his struggles — which include a career 39 home runs allowed in 178 innings — and his $13 million team option for 2013. Just hours before that decision was to be made official, Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto moved him and the $1 million buyout he would have been owed to the Royals in return for 27-year-old minor-league reliever Brandon Sisk.
Dipoto now faces a similar decision with Dan Haren, who has an option worth $15.5 million and includes a $3.5 million buyout.
For Royals general manager Dayton Moore it's a deal very similar to his trade last November that netted Jonathan Sanchez from the San Francisco Giants, although the return this time wasn't an established major leaguer like Melky Cabrera. In this case, Moore gives away less talent and takes on around $7 million more, but I think it's a better gamble overall since Santana is just one year removed from back-to-back 220-inning seasons where he looked every bit the part of a top of the rotation pitcher. Anything close to that pace over the first half of 2013 could rehab his value enough to make him a nice trade chip or short-term building block.
Sanchez, while brilliant in 2010, never could put it all together before or after that season. His erratic performance amid San Francisco's well-oiled pitching machine made the match in Kansas City seem like one that would be doomed to fail, and that's exactly what it did. But to Moore's credit he quickly turned Sanchez into Jeremy Guthrie, who was yet another struggling veteran in the final year of his contract. Guthrie went on to finish the season strongly and would seem like a logical candidate to return to Kansas City next season, but it won't be under the three-year contract he's currently seeking in free agency.
In fact, it may not happen at all now that they've acquired Santana.
"We've stated all along that starting pitching was a priority this offseason, and acquiring someone with the resume of Ervin Santana immediately upgrades our rotation," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said in a statement. "At just 29 years old, he has 96 major-league wins, is a proven innings-eater and most importantly, he competes. Ervin has been an All-Star, has pitched in the postseason and has at least 16 wins in three different years, all of which adds a winning mindset to our clubhouse."
Moore later added the Royals weren't done exploring pitching options this offseason, which could still leave the door open for Guthrie's return should the price come down or via another trade. They also recently claimed right-hander Chris Volstad off waivers from the Chicago Cubs. Both new starters will join up with Bruce Chen, Luis Mendoza and Will Smith to form their tentative rotation. Luke Hochevar is arbitration eligible and could return as well.
It's a rag tag group if you've ever seen one, but hey, maybe this is the year Moore finds the right mix and puts something competitive together. Then again, maybe it's not, but he'll keep trying. More importantly, it appears like he'll keep getting the opportunity to fix it.