It was announced today that the Atlanta Braves signed starting pitcher Ervin Santana to a one-year contract worth $14.1 million. The move makes sense as the Braves’ rotation has been riddled by injuries thus far this Spring.
Over the weekend, there was speculation that the Phillies were after Santana. Obviously nothing came of those rumors, but assuming that they could have signed him for a similar deal, should the Phillies have been the team to acquire him?
At first glance, Santana would have been an upgrade for the Phillies. With Cole Hamels likely out until May, the Phillies are left with a gaping hole in their rotation. Santana is better than any of the candidates who are currently vying for a job, and assuming Hamels comes back in relatively quick fashion, the Phillies would have had one of the best rotations in baseball.
So why didn’t the Phillies aggressively pursue him?
One reason is obviously money. The Phillies are expected to be just under the luxury tax threshold after signing A.J. Burnett last month, and Santana’s contract would have undoubtedly put them over. While the Phillies have never outright said that they won’t surpass that total, it seems to be a self-imposed limit.
Perhaps even more importantly, signing Santana would have required the Phillies give a compensatory draft pick to his old team, the Kansas City Royals. Being in the top 10 of the draft, the Phillies first round pick is protected, but they would still have to give up a second round pick.
While the Phillies aren’t in an outright “rebuild” right now, they’ve also seemed intent on avoiding moves that might negatively impact the long-term health of the franchise. Giving up a second round pick in exchange for Santana would run counter to that philosophy. One of the reasons why A.J. Burnett was so appealing was because he didn’t require the sacrifice of a draft pick.
It should also be noted that Santana isn’t exactly a sure thing. He had a strong season in 2013, but he was almost equally as bad in 2012. He went 9-13 with a 5.16 ERA in 2012, prompting the Angels to trade him to the Royals for very little compensation. While that season seems like an outlier, Santana doesn’t have that much upside, since he hasn’t been worth more than 3.0 WAR in any of the past six seasons.
Personally, I am glad that the Phillies passed. Yes, Santana likely makes the Braves better in 2014, but the Braves were likely better than the Phillies even before they signed him.
Would Santana have put the Phillies over the top? I don’t think so. If Hamels comes back quickly, then Santana is a costly upgrade to the bottom of the Phillies rotation. And if Hamels doesn’t come back, then I don’t think they have much of a chance with or without Santana. They’re better off keeping that draft pick and keeping their fingers crossed that Hamels is okay.