Let’s say you’re a terrible baseball team. You’re the kind of team that could get swept in the Tigers in its opening series by an aggregate score of 22-1 and not have Baseball Twitter coming within a mile of defending you as small sample size victims.
Not gonna say which team because this is an imagination exercise, but it’s an anagram of “Twinesota Minns” (also “Tiniest Snowman”).
It’s December of the offseason before you’re about to be terrible, and there’s a pitcher that you really like. It’s Ervin Santana. He’s good. You don’t love him, but you like him enough to put on your team with a long-term deal, one that might get you to some non-terrible years in there. He’s not a 7-and-210 guy, but terrible teams don’t sign 7-and-210 guys and 7-and-210 guys don’t sign with terrible teams. You generally like him more than the market does.
But he’s only available this offseason; he’ll sign for multiple years somewhere if not with you. You could get a different pitcher next offseason – it’ll be a really good one for pitching – but you think you can get a good deal here.
You’ll have him locked up for the years when you expect that your highly rated farm system will help you be competitive again. But you’ll have to pay him a lot of money and sit through 32 starts of injury risk to a guy with an elbow history just to get to that point.
Unless you won’t.
There are a lot of bad things that have befallen the Twins, some out of their own doing – sort any list of the last several years by K/9 – and some out of bad luck with injuries to their top prospects, including Lewis Thorpe’s torn UCL just a couple weeks ago. You might have even thought the signing of Santana itself was bad, although the dollars hardly seem that objectionable given the market.
The peak of Twins fan misery, though, came on April 3rd, when the Friday afternoon news dump dumped on us the Santana suspension, 80 games for stanozolol, an anabolic steroid. It was just piling on at that point, and it was probably the best day of the Twins offseason.
Fans aren’t going to care much about the fact that the Twins saved $6.7 million*, one-eighth of the contract and a higher percentage of the present value of the contract, with Santana’s suspension. Nor should they; it’s not like the Twins went out and signed somebody with that, nor are they going to raise the payroll by $6.7 million next year as a direct result.
But this was a great consequence for the Twins, as is the happy consequence they can share with their fans. You’ve taken away half a season’s worth of direct injury risk in a meaningless season and capped his innings around 100, which could help next year.
There are at least three things to be worried about before considering this to be actual happy news.
First, that the replacement isn’t giving you a service time issue by calling up an elite prospect early, which with Mike Pelfrey replacing him in the rotation isn’t a big deal.
Second, he’ll be rusty when he gets back, which isn’t a huge deal given how bad this team is. This is probably a good time to mention that this is all a really big picture look for fans who want to see the big picture of a franchise’s trajectory. It should be stated in all of this that Santana would have given Twins fans watching a game a better chance to see their team win than his replacements will, and to many there is lots of value in those three hours.
Third, there is the concern that the bad news lies in the news itself. That using the anabolic steroid was what made him – or part of what made him – an effective pitcher. I won’t pretend to have done all the research on this, and while the baseball scholarly community seems skeptical of how much anabolic steroids actually help performance, this isn’t able to be fully dismissed as a concern.
On the whole, though, it’s really hard to see this suspension as much of a loss in the big picture for the Twins. They save money, save the arm and were going to be lost with or without him.
It was the culmination of an offseason and a several-year stretch of being able to laugh at one of baseball’s down and out teams, but that Friday afternoon news dump might have actually been the best news they had this offseason.
*Actually a little lower than $6.7 million since they have to carry another player at a major league salary whom they wouldn’t have carried.
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