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Free Agent Profile: Ervin Santana

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An above-average starter the past two years, Ervin Santana is a low-risk option for the Mariners.

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, I took a brief look at the mid-tier free agent starting pitching market, arguing that the Mariners could use some depth and the mid-tiers are rife with great values at a reasonable price. Yesterday, I took a look at one of the more popular pitching targets, Brandon McCarthy. Today, I'll say in the second tier of free agent starting pitchers and take a look at Ervin Santana -- just to please Logan.

Santana is an interesting case. For the second straight year, he finds himself a free agent with a qualifying offer attached to him. Last year, he spent most of the offseason without a team and had to settle for a one-year contract with the Braves in March, just as Spring Training was beginning to ramp up. While I don't think he'll have to wait that long again, he could be a free agent well into January or even February as teams try and navigate his draft pick penalty.

The Profile

Ervin Santana will turn 32 next month. He was signed by the Los Angeles Angels as an international free agent and spent his early career with them.  Over the past two years he's signed consecutive one-year contracts, one with the Royals and, most recently, with the Braves. He's been an above-average pitcher the past two years but a very poor 2012 looms in the recent past. In 2014, his strikeout rate spiked to over 20% for the first time since 2008 and it could be a result of the league change.  If you filter out strikeouts against pitchers, his adjusted strikeout rate looks fairly similar to his career norms, just a tad higher.

Ervin Santana (2014; 31 starts)

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

196

21.9%

7.7%

8.8%

42.7%

3.95

3.39

Pitches

Four-seam

Two-seam

Slider

Changeup

92.3 mph;

50.7%

89.7 mph;

1.8%

83.3 mph;

33.8%

84.5 mph;

13.5%

Based on the information presented above, Santana is a durable, above-average pitcher seeking a long-term contract. Yet, teams have been hesitant to sign Santana for longer than a single year the past two years. Granted, in 2013, he was coming off a horrendous 2012 that saw him post a FIP that was 44% worse than league average. Yikes. Still, perfect health is never a guarantee for any pitcher and Santana may have some higher risks than the cursory glance may reveal. Santana primarily relies on a fastball-slider repertoire and we know from Jeff Zimmerman's injury research that pitchers who throw more sliders are more susceptible to injury. Santana has missed some time with an elbow injury, but that was all the way back in 2009. Still, anyone who is looking into signing Santana has to understand the risks. If durability is one of Santana's strengths, anything that could jeopardize that becomes much more serious to a potential buyer.

The Projection

Ervin Santana (2015 Steamer Projection)

IP

K%

BB%

ERA

FIP

WAR

182

19.5%

7.1%

4.12

3.94

1.7

Steamer isn't too high on Santana in 2015. The increased strikeouts remain but it projects a home run rate that's closer to his previous career norms. These run prevention issues could be mitigated by a home park like Safeco Field but he doesn't have much upside. The 1.7 WAR Steamer projects seems like a pretty safe bet, despite an average of 2.8 WAR over the last two years.

The Cost

Santana is firmly in the second-tier of pitching free agents because he's been so durable and, for the most part, reliable in his career. Teams know that they can expect an ERA in the upper-3's that may approach the low-4's and he'll give them around 30 starts over the year. In today's free agent market, that's worth quite a bit. The FanGraphs crowd estimates a three-year deal with an average annual value around $13 million. MLB Trade Rumors is a bit more generous, estimating an extra year but a similar AAV, around $14 million.

There's also the added cost of losing a draft pick if the Mariners sign Santana. The Mariners own the 21st pick in the 2015 draft. Based on the research completed by Matthew Murphy on The Hardball Times, a draft pick in that range is worth an average net value of $18.2 million. However, draft picks rarely make any contribution to the major league team in their first few years as a professional. We have to account for these years where the draft pick isn't producing any value. When we do this, the 21st pick in the draft would be worth around $9 million.

When taken all together, Santana seems less and less like a decent bargain and more and more like a low-upside signing. With his pitch mix and the risk that goes along with it, the added lost value in the draft pick, and the multitude of options on the market, I think the Mariners would be making a mistake in signing Santana.

The Fit

Like any of these mid-tier starting pitchers, Santana won't come at an exorbitant price. But his value is certainly affected by the draft compensation that's attached to him. The Mariners would probably be a better team with Santana on the roster but they'd be a better with Jason Hammel or Brandon McCarthy or Jake Peavy on the roster too. All three of those guys are estimated to be signed to a fairly similar deal to Santana but they don't have an additional cost associated with them.

Santana's 2015 projection would probably look a lot better if he was projected to pitch most of his games in Safeco Field. He's a right-handed, fly ball pitcher who would benefit from Safeco immensely. I'm just not sure that he's the best option for the Mariners, especially with so many other options on the market.