Ever since the Baltimore Orioles signed Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz, MLB free agency has been largely focused on three names: Stephen Drew, Kendrys Morales, and Ervin Santana. There’s nothing new to report on Drew, as usual, as the teams interested in his services simply realized long ago that they had no real reason to pay him any more than what they wanted to pay him, and thus he remains on the market. Morales watched Nelson Cruz effectively set his market and remains upset about the prospect of a cheap one-year deal, and so he too will be a free agent until realizing it’s better to play for less than to not play at all. So no movement there, either. There was nothing going on with Ervin Santana for a long time, too. That ended today.
Santana’s effective market price has been set for quite some time: four years, $50 million. That’s roughly the contract signed by each of Ricky Nolasco, Ubaldo Jiminez, and Matt Garza this offseason, and Edwin Jackson a year ago. Except somewhere along the line, Santana and maybe-ex-agent Bean Stringfellow way, way overplayed their hand, allegedly refusing to budge from demands of $100 million while similar pitchers were signing for half of that. By the time Santana realized his initial dreams were way out of whack, he was the last arm standing, at which point his leverage had all but disappeared. Today we have the big news: Santana will sign with the Toronto Blue Jays at 4:00pm, unless someone can beat that offer this afternoon.
It appears that the bidding is down to Toronto and Baltimore, who have offered $13 million plus incentives, with Santana leaning towards the Toronto deal. This is obviously fantastic news for whichever team walks away with the righty’s services, as a one-year contract essentially kills the risk factor that was making him so unattractive. One year, $14 million is just a hair under the qualifying offer, though of course the team that wins the bidding will lose their top unprotected draft choice to the Royals. But with the price now established, one glaring question remains: what should stop the Seattle Mariners from being the highest bidder?
Of course, the possibility exists that what the media is reporting isn’t all of what’s happening. Maybe Santana has explicitly stated he will only play for the Jays or O’s. Perhaps he simply doesn’t want to pitch in Seattle. But certainly we must examine the possibility that there’s still a window – even though it looks like it’ll only be open for a couple hours – for the M’s to swoop in and offer something like A.J. Burnett‘s deal with Philadelphia in order to secure the right to bolster their rotation for 2014 and 2014 alone. And that’s something the M’s absolutely should be interested in doing.
Santana would start the season as the Mariners number two starter behind Felix Hernandez, then get bumped back a spot when Hisashi Iwakuma‘s finger is fully healed. He’d only be around for one year, meaning he wouldn’t be blocking any young guns in the should-be-contending years to come. Santana was always going to be a questionable fit on a three or four year pact, but as a one year guy he’s a dream come true. If he pitches anything like he did last year, the Mariners add a few more wins to a team that really desperately needs a few more wins. If he pitches anything like he did the year before that, the Mariners don’t have to worry about being saddled by a huge contract for a crappy player. One year of Santana can’t break this franchise. From a team-building standpoint, it makes so much sense.
But oh, the money. The Mariners have made a public fuss about money lately, despite two glaring facts: they want to contend this season, and they’re set to have their lowest payroll since 2000. The Mariners are saying they’re out of money, but they’re pretty obviously not out of money. The Mariners might be out of budget room, in which they either incorrectly think they already have a contending club or they spent incredibly poorly this offseason. It’s hard to believe this team doesn’t have room for a pitcher who is at times ace-caliber, especially on a one-year deal. Failing to beat the Blue Jays offer for Santana makes the Robinson Cano acquisition look really misguided. If this team can no longer spend, then shame on them for the way they spent before. If this team can spend but doesn’t want to, then shame on them for having such inability to evaluate their roster.
It’s no secret that the 2014 Mariners are still five or six wins away from being a legit wild card contender. The roster is thin and susceptible to injury and underperformance from critical spots that could threaten to cripple the team. Signing Ervin Santana would effectively take them halfway to what should be their goal, and now they could have the opportunity to do that for nothing but 2014 dollars. Fingers crossed that they at least try, because if they don’t the implications are not going to be flattering.
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