lukewarm stovePresented for discussion purposes only …

Ken Rosenthal reports that long-time free agent starting pitcher Ervin Santana is now angling for a one-year contract, which he hopes to sign before Opening Day. Although the Cubs haven’t been connected to Santana, and aren’t likely to be connected to him now, the change in Santana’s status has led to some splinter conversations in the comments about the Cubs trying to pick up Santana as a “flip” candidate. I figure we might as well centralize those discussions here, and I can offer my own thoughts.

Here are the considerations, most of which weigh against the Cubs signing Santana, even on a one-year deal:

  • Santana, 31, is coming off of his best season in years, posting a 3.24 ERA over 211 innings (3.0 WAR). His FIP was a less sexy 3.93, but his strikeout rate ticked up (18.7%) and his walk rate dropped (5.9%). Prior to 2013, however, Santana had netted a total of 4.6 WAR over four years combined, including a -1.0 year in 2012. In short, he was a guy everyone would be happy to have in their rotation in 2013, but he’s not a guy who should have ever been expecting a $60 million contract, much less the reported $100 million he started out asking for.
  • ZiPS projects a near-average season for Santana in 2014 (4.27 ERA, 4.43 FIP, 2.2 WAR), and PECOTA likes him even less (4.31 ERA, 0.6 WAR).

  • Although the Cubs have a protected pick in this draft, the pick they would lose to sign Santana (a second rounder in the 45 range) is actually a bit higher than the pick that would be lost by interested teams such as the Blue Jays (50), Orioles (91), or Yankees (56).
  • Because the Cubs don’t project to be a playoff-caliber team in 2014, Santana offers more value – in terms of incremental wins – to a projected playoff contender than he does to the Cubs. In a perfect market, that means there should be *many* more teams (correctly) willing to pay more money for Santana, even on a one-year deal, than the Cubs.
  • Losing a second round pick to sign a flip guy like Santana isn’t actually a huge burden when you consider that, for example, the Cubs flipped Scott Feldman (in essence) for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop last year, which is clearly more value than an early second round pick.

  • But, keep in mind about that comparison: although Santana’s ceiling performance is probably higher than Feldman’s, the Cubs made that trade after Feldman had already performed excellently, and after he had already stayed healthy for the first half. Saying that it’s a simple as comparing the value of a second round pick and the value Feldman (or Maholm or Garza or whomever) netted the Cubs is inaccurate. You have to compare those things while still accounting for the risk of injury and ineffectiveness (and also the higher salary for Santana).
  • In other words, signing Santana makes sense for the Cubs only if the value in flip so dramatically outweighs the value of the second round pick (and pool money) that it’s worth the risk of injury or ineffectiveness. Given Santana’s age (31), previous arm issues, ugly projections, and somewhat hollow “great” year in 2013, I’m not particularly comfortable with that risk, myself.
  • Throw in the fact that, if the Cubs added Santana, Arrieta is bounced from the rotation (because none of Samardzija, Jackson, Wood, or Hammel are getting sent to the pen), and I’d like the move even less. In a punted year, I’d really like to see what the Cubs have in Arrieta – that could have more long-term value than whatever they might pick up for Santana.
  • All that said, if Santana were forced to take a Nelson Cruz deal ($8 million, one year), then I suppose I wouldn’t hate it for the Cubs. I just don’t see that happening, at least not with the Cubs. The only upside the Cubs can offer someone like Santana is that, if he pitches well, he’s a virtual lock to be traded midseason, making him ineligible for draft pick compensation after the season. But he’s not going to leave real money on the table for that chance.

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