The Cubs failed to land the pitcher who shall not be named last week, and the consensus seems to be that the Cubs will look to add another starter. Most assumed that it would be in the bargain bin that this front office has successful mined, on the starting pitching front at least, the past two offseasons. Names like Jason Hammel and Paul Maholm began to loom large on the supposed Cubs radar. And then some strange news broke last night that the Cubs had been talking to Ervin Santana.
The interest was pegged as meager, but why would the Cubs bother with a player that represents everything this front office has avoided in free agency. Santana is hardly entering his peak seasons as he heads into his age 31 season. He is also coming off a stellar season which he severely outperformed his peripherals (3.24 ERA compared to 3.93 FIP). And most of all he is attached to draft pick compensation. Signing Santana would cost the Cubs not only a precious draft pick but the slot money attached to it (last year’s second round fourth pick received a 1.2 million slot bonus). So this has to just be due diligence?
This front office has been willing to chase value wherever they see it. Last year the Cubs surprised many when the Cubs blew past the international bonus pools because they thought they had a chance to gain a competitive edge through that strategy. Santana might represent another such opportunity. Ervin Santana began the offseason reportedly looking for a deal in the 5 years 112 million range. No one has come close, and some reports suggest that Santana’s offers will be lower than the 4 year 50 million dollar deal that Matt Garza just signed. One report suggests that the price tag on Santana might fall to 3 years 40 million dollars. Santana might be this offseasons Michael Bourn, and the Cubs could be the benefactor this time around.
Santana provides one really important quality that might be a key feature of a sneaky good Cubs rotation. That is durability. Santana has averaged over 209 innings the past four seasons, and has thrown over 200 innings 5 out of his 9 seasons in the big leagues. The Cubs had two starters last season pitch 200 innings, and a third that threw 189 innings. The Cubs might be able to get 800 innings out of their front four starters in this scenario. This is important because healthy can be a hidden characteristic of success. The average team had 32 starts made from someone besides their first five starting pitchers last season. And while the Cubs depth has certainly improved from the days of having to rely on Justin Germano (Free @JustGerm!) and Jason Berken to fill gaps in the rotation, having four guys that take the ball every fifth day is an advantage over a lot of teams in baseball.
This is the reason why I’ve been a fan of adding the ancient Bronson Arroyo as well. Arroyo isn’t attached to draft pick compensation, but the results are likely to be weaker than Santana’s. Arroyo hasn’t thrown less than 199 innings since 2004. Paying for ages 37 and beyond is a scary notion, but Arroyo provides a stabilizing force that has value beyond the statistics that he puts up. One of those being is the addition of Santana or Arroyo decreases the pressure on the fifth spot in the rotation currently occupied by Jake Arrieta. Arrieta has been discussed here and there is some hope for a breakout. But if that breakout doesn’t come it is nice to increase the number of options to replace his turn in the rotation.
The Cubs are unlikely to be very good in 2014. However, this signing give the Cubs the ability to hand the ball every day to a guy that gives you a chance to win. Add in a much improved bullpen and a number of young players with the possibility for improved performance. That is the formula that can surprise. And if it doesn’t work out, Santana would provide another attractive trade chip at the deadline.