KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Former Angels right-hander Ervin Santana is virtually the perfect fit for the Royals, at least according to former Royal and present Angels broadcaster for Fox Sports West, Mark Gubicza.
“This is really a chance for Ervin to get out of the shadows here and be his own guy,” Gubicza said by phone Tuesday. “And it’s a chance for him to prove he can be a No. 1 guy and get away from his comfort zone.
“He’s always been the ‘great prospect’ and an Angels draft pick, so he kind of lived in that comfort zone. Now he’s going to a new place and he can prove how good he really is, and not be compared to Jared Weaver or Dan Haren or C. J. Wilson or any of the other pitchers that have been here.”
Santana, acquired last week by the Royals, almost immediately assumes the role of ace with the Royals.
“He’s ready for that,” Gubiza said. “No question about it. There’s no question about his stuff. I think now he’ll have to really focus on being more consistent because this is a big year for his career.”
Santana, a 29-year-old right-hander, will make $13 million in the final year of his contract and will need to prove he can be an elite pitcher to lure a big contract offer on the market after the 2013 season.
“He’s going to a team with great defense and a great bullpen,” Gubicza said. “I think that will allow him to relax. And he’s going to a team that should hit. That was always one of the issues here with him – the team didn’t really hit for him in stretches. I think there was one stretch where he got shut out five straight games. That can wear on a pitcher.”
The Royals, Gubciza believes, are getting a workhorse who has pitched 200-plus innings in four of his eight big-league seasons.
“That’s going to make such a difference for (the Royals’) bullpen,” Gubicza said. “I think the Royals have one of the best bullpens in baseball but it really got worked a lot. You need starters that can get to the seventh inning consistently and he’s that guy.”
The Royals also are getting a player who should fit in well in the clubhouse.
“Ervin is just a great guy,” Gubicza said. “He’s got a big smile on his face all the time. He competes hard. He’s a great teammate. He’ll fit in well.
“And I think he’ll make a difference with the other pitchers there. They’ll see his work habits. They’ll see how he competes. That will rub off. The one thing he has that some of the kids there don’t is playoff experience – that makes a difference. He has a mindset of being a post-season guy. That’s the mindset that you want the Royals to have.”
While Santana did struggle in the first half last season, he finished strong and ended with a 9-13 record and a 5.16 ERA. He had a 3.44 ERA over his final eight starts.
The flip side is that he did surrender a league-worst 39 homers for the season.
“When he would get in trouble, it would be with the get-it-over curve when he’s down in the count,” Gubicza said. “But a lot of those homers were solo homers and that didn’t really hurt. He’s still got incredible stuff.
“In fact, a lot of us thought he actually had the best stuff of anyone on the staff, including Weaver and (Zack) Greinke. He’s got the best slider or one of the best sliders in the game.”
So why didn’t the Angels want him back?
“I think the Angels are kind of in transition here,” Gubicza said. “The option ($13 million) would have been a lot to pick up especially when they’re considering what to do with an offer for Zack. There are reports that Zack is looking for something in the $100 million or $120 million range.
“But I don’t think anyone was down on Ervin. He was a little too inconsistent at times but he’s still a guy who has No. 1 stuff. It’s tough to let guys like that go. Kansas City got a nice pickup for where they’re at. They’re going to be very happy with him.”