Many assume that after a great year in the Kansas City Royals‘ rotation, Ervin Santana will sign a huge contract elsewhere. After Dayton Moore told the KC press that he intended to keep the payroll about the same in 2014, some thought that meant curtains for Santana’s time as a Royal, but don’t be so sure. There are numerous variables and reasons why Kansas City may still return Santana to this much-improved rotation.
The two most significant phrases being uttered within the club this week are “qualifying offer” and “compensatory draft pick,” as these are major factors in determining Santana’s future with the team. The Royals can make it much more costly for other teams trying to sign Santana in free agency by giving him a qualifying offer for a contract to play in 2014. This offer must be as high as the average of the MLB‘s 125 highest salaries, which is expected to be around $14 million this year.
Whether Santana agrees to this lofty contract or not, and he probably will not, this offer will help Kansas City. If Santana turns the offer down and signs with another team, the Royals earn a compensatory pick in the next draft from the team that signed him. After KC presents this offer to Santana, he has seven days to accept or decline it. Even if Santana turns down the initial offer, he can continue to negotiate with the team for a more lucrative deal.
So, presenting Santana with a qualifying offer seems like the logical next step, and GM Moore has already stated publicly that he intends to do so. This means raising his price tag for the rest of the league and softening the hit that the roster takes if another team does decide to sign him. Still, these aren’t the only reasons the Royals want to negotiate with Santana.
His career-best 3.24 ERA helped lead KC to their most successful season in decades. The strong 5-man rotation the Royals used last year is now hypothetically reduced to only two certainties for 2014, those being James Shields and Jeremy Guthrie. Bruce Chen‘s return to KC is uncertain, and Wade Davis and Luis Mendoza were both demoted to bullpen duties in 2013. On top of all these unknowns, the Royals have a list of young and talented pitchers that may or may not have what it takes to contribute to a big league team this upcoming year.
Kansas City hasn’t seen a team this successful since the 1980s, and a solid rotation of starters was clearly the key. Without Santana, the ball club will be leaving a lot up to chance in 2014. There may be free agents that can contribute similarly for lower pay or there may be a long-term solution waiting in the minors, but no one can tell for certain. Kansas City’s best chance for winning is to keep the pitching rotation strong, and re-signing Santana is the most concrete way to do exactly that.