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February 26, 2014

Rumor Roundup

What Ervin is Asking

by Daniel Rathman

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Ervin Santana’s asking price still four years, $50 million
The calendar will soon read March, and Opening Day is fast approaching, but Ervin Santana is holding firm to his demands. According to executives who spoke with CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, the right-hander wants $50 million over four years. Matt Garza, Ricky Nolasco, and Ubaldo Jimenez got roughly that guarantee—so, in the minds of Santana and his agent, Bean Stringfellow, the former Royal deserves the same.

Assuming the qualified free agents’ price tags were the same when the Orioles chose Jimenez over Santana, it appears that Dan Duquette preferred upside to stability. A second factor might have been the Orioles’ hitter-friendly ballpark, for which Jimenez—whose strikeout rate (25 percent) far outpaced Santana’s (18.7 percent)—is a better fit. Jimenez was a ground-ball pitcher earlier in his career but has trended toward fly balls during the past few seasons; conversely, Santana has a fly-ball résumé with a recent shift toward grounders, and his 46.2 percent worm-killer rate in 2013 marked a career high.

The Orioles may yet add Santana to their offseason haul if Duquette finds enough wiggle room in his budget, though it’s unclear whether they would be willing to make another four-year commitment to a pitcher who seemingly was not their first choice. However, manager Buck Showalter’s rotation appears to be set with Jimenez, Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, Bud Norris, and Wei-Yin Chen, with Kevin Gausman waiting in the wings. Fellow first-rounder Dylan Bundy is working his way back from Tommy John surgery, and two other prospects, Eduardo Rodriguez and Mike Wright, could arrive later in the year.

Put those pieces together, and the Orioles don’t seem to be desperate to tack Santana on to Jimenez and Nelson Cruz. They are likely to do so only on their own terms, even though the draft-pick cost to Duquette is now merely a third-rounder because his first and second picks are already gone.

Heyman noted that the Mariners, Rangers, and Rockies are the other teams currently showing interest in Santana. Colorado surfaced as a possible suitor a couple of days ago, when its no. 2 starter, Jhoulys Chacin, was shut down indefinitely with shoulder inflammation.

Cubs could still export Jeff Samardzija before Opening Day
If the season started today, Jeff Samardzija would probably be the first pitcher to get the ball for the Cubs. But the season doesn’t start today—and by the time it does, sources told Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times, Samardzija might no longer be around.

Wittenmyer heard mixed opinions from industry insiders on Monday; two suggested that the right-hander would be on the move in short order, one said otherwise. He also relayed a cryptic quote from first-year manager Rick Renteria, who declined to name Samardzija—by all accounts the Cubs’ current ace—as his Opening Day starter.

The 29-year-old Samardzija is due to make $5.345 million in his second year of arbitration eligibility, which he forwent by agreeing to a one-year deal on February 8. He could become a free agent after the 2015 season—at which point, if he sustains his current level of production and the free-agent compensation system remains the same, he would probably receive a qualifying offer.

With at least two more years of team control, the Cubs need not rush to move Samardzija if they fail to find a suitor willing to part with the pieces they seek. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick heard around the Winter Meetings that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer would ask for young pitching in return for Samardzija—which makes sense, because eight of their top 10 prospects are position players.

About three months ago, CSN Chicago’s Dan Kaplan was told by a major-league source that the probability of Samardzija leaving the Cubs before Opening Day was “99 percent.” At the time, the Blue Jays, Braves, Diamondbacks, and Orioles were thought to be interested.

The Orioles have since added Jimenez, and the Diamondbacks have inked Bronson Arroyo, so neither club is likely to mortgage its future for the Notre Dame product. The Blue Jays, however, have come up empty so far this winter, have the talent in their pipeline to pull off a swap, and might like Samardzija more than Santana. Late last month, Heyman wrote that general manager Alex Anthopoulos was “putting together packages of young players to offer the Cubs” but tempered the rumor by noting that the Jays still felt the cost in minor-league talent was too high.

Johan Santana shows off Carter-era fastball
If Johan Santana makes it all the way back from his second shoulder-capsule surgery, he could become one of the best stories of the 2014 season. Tuesday’s workout for seven teams, though, brought some discouraging signs.

George A. King III of the New York Post wrote yesterday afternoon that Santana sat in the high 70s with his fastball, touching 81 mph, a worrisome lack of gas that could hinder the effectiveness of his outstanding changeup. It’s worth noting that Santana is still in the strength-building phase of his recovery, so his velocity should tick up over the next month or two. But he’ll need a healthy increase to return to the majors, and only time will tell if there are big-league bullets left in his arm.

Santana’s friends indicated to King that the southpaw is hoping to be back in the majors sometime in May or early June. Apart from the Yankees, the Twins—and probably the Mariners—were in attendance at Santana’s throwing session, according to Chris Cotillo of SB Nation.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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