Considering the demoralizing, perhaps even rage-inducing (for some) streak of inactivity of that has defined the Toronto Blue Jays‘ offseason, it’s hard not to look at the potential arrival of Ervin Santana as a beacon of hope.
That said, the fact that Alex Anthopoulos and co. have either been handcuffed by Rogers or simply failed to read the market properly over the last few months masks one important thing: even if the bluebirds manage to beat out their divisional rival Baltimore Orioles for the services of the last notable starting pitcher available, it’ll be somewhat of a hollow victory.
At least, if the whole impetus of making such a deal is to make the MLB postseason anyway.
That’s going to sound a little like your standard glass-half-full Toronto sports fan rhetoric, but the numbers don’t exactly suggest that your optimism should be spent on this move. Career inconsistency aside, Santana’s simply not the frontline starter that the team has been searching for since the departure of Roy Halladay to take them to the promised land.
Yes, he’ll eat innings (200-plus IP in three of the last four seasons), and there’s certainly value in that given what the Blue Jays currently have as backend depth, but even in his resurgent 2013 with the Kansas City Royals, he was only a 3.0 fWAR pitcher with a 3.93 FIP vs. a 3.24 ERA. Assuming that Toronto will get the full value of that over a replacement level (or even slightly below) arm, those three wins won’t end up making the difference — not without a whole lot of other things going right.
There’s no doubt that the right-hander has shown signs of improvement — his 2.18 BB/9 in 2013 was the best since his 6.0 fWAR breakthrough in 2008, and he did post a career-best 1.41 GB/FB and 46.2 ground ball rate last year — but this is the AL East after all, where he owns a 5.24/1.37 ERA/WHIP over 347.2 career innings against every team besides Toronto … and he’d be pitching in a homer-friendly park where few have found success.
It’s the latter which further diminishes his potential contribution for the team. If the Blue Jays do not get a bounce-back year from R.A. Dickey, a healthy season from Brandon Morrow, and enough effective innings out of folks like Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek, Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond, etc., having a Dickey-Santana-Buehrle trio at the top isn’t exactly going to induce fears into the hearts of AL batters.
And really, after two straight seasons governed by Murphy’s Law, how likely is it that everything will go right on the mound this season?
Let’s just put it this way: the Jays finished 17.5 games back of the duo of 92-win Wild Card Winners in 2013, and that’s a much bigger difference than Santana can make up. Sure, a healthy Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera and Brett Lawrie could get them close, but they’re far from being sound safety nets. The Jays needed some 5-6 wins added to their 26-player 6.9 fWAR group of starters last year to be competitive, and those numbers aren’t out there anymore.
In that sense, Anthopoulos is mostly in a lose-lose situation here. Should he acquire Santana on a team-friendly one-year deal, he’s merely done his job to save the franchise from being further embarrassed as a result of his own operational guidelines (… or payroll parameters).
If he doesn’t? Well, that’s as good a sign of a lame-duck GM as any, given that the Blue Jays’ need for starting pitching to even have a hope of competing for a playoff spot has been signed and delivered around MLB by Captain Obvious.
It’s not an enviable position to be in for the GM, but the fact is that the Blue Jays needed multiple pieces at multiple positions to pair with the hope of some bounce-back, healthy seasons in order to really keep that window open in 2014 and make some noise in the AL Beast.
Already having failed to do that though, all of this hubbub over Santana (when he finally decides where he’s going) might simply be a whimper.