For the second straight off-season, the Royals traded for an erratic-but-sometimes-dazzling under-30 pitcher from a West Coast team with hopes he can bolster their troubled rotation.
Last year it was Jonathan Sanchez, acquired from the San Francisco Giants. This time, Royals general manager Dayton Moore traded minor-league left-hander Brandon Sisk to the Los Angeles Angels for right-hander Ervin Santana.
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No need to rehash how disastrous the Sanchez deal worked out, though the Royals did eventually acquire Jeremy Guthrie in a trade with Colorado for Sanchez, and they hope to re-sign Guthrie in free-agency.
And to be fair to the Royals, Santana’s resume is far less shaky than Sanchez’s, even though Santana was only 9-13 with a 5.16 ERA last season.
Moore said by teleconference call Wednesday he began working on the deal for Santana seriously about a week ago, and had no flashbacks to the Sanchez deal.
“We go into every deal we make confident that it will work out,” Moore said. “We got a young pitcher (29) who has had a lot of success and who pitched very well the last two months of last season. Our scouts did their due diligence and let it be known he was a guy who really got stronger as the season went on.”
True, Santana posted a 3.63 ERA in his final 10 starts and allowed just 45 hits and 16 walks over 62 innings while striking out 55.
And even when Santana has struggled during his career, he has never been Sanchez-bad. The Royals knew Sanchez had command issues – he had a 1.44 WHIP in 2011 before posting an astonishing 2.04 WHIP with the Royals last season.
Santana had a 1.22 WHIP in 2011 and a 1.27 WHIP in 2012. Santana’s best season came in 2008 with the Angels when he went 16-7 with a 3.49 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP.
Moore, naturally, is hoping he has found a starter who can compete for the No. 1 spot in the Royals’ rotation.
“We look for guys who have the mindset that they can be a No. 1 starter,” Moore said. “It’s too early to predict where he’ll fit in but he certainly has the mindset to be a No. 1.”
“If they give me the opportunity, sure I can (be the No. 1),” he said. “I have the tools for it.”
Santana, though, fell out of favor with the Angels with his erratic start to 2011 and the Angels became unwilling to offer him an extension, or pick up his $13.5 million option for 2013 – a sign they are saving money to re-sign Zack Greinke.
Moore confirmed that the Royals did receive some cash in the deal as they assume the option year of Santana’s contract.
“But we will be picking up the majority of the contract,” Moore said.
Santana admitted he had mixed feelings about leaving the Angels, a perennial playoff contender, for a team still experiencing growing pains.
“A little bit,” Santana said. “I knew those guys for a long time. But that’s baseball. They trade me and I have to accept it.
“But I’m excited to be going to the Royals.”
Santana said he has been impressed with the Royals.
“They have a good young team,” he said. “They hit, they play good defense. They’re very aggressive.”
Santana, though, seemed cautious about his potential future with the Royals. Asked if he’d be interested in signing an extension with the Royals if it were offered, he paused and said, “Yes, I would be interested. (But) I’ll see how it is first and go from there.”
That likely will be Moore’s approach, too, who said he will continue to look for ways to upgrade the rotation.
“We’re not done,” Moore said. “Whether it’s through another trade, or through free-agency, or internally with someone in our system or from the bullpen, we will look for ways to get better in that area. We will explore free-agency.”
Presumably that will start with Guthrie, now officially a free-agent. Moore has indicated the Royals are interested in re-signing Guthrie.
Moore and the Royals also will have a decision to make about former closer Joakim Soria, who underwent Tommy John surgery last spring. The Royals exercised their $750,000 buyout of Soria’s contract rather than pay the $8 million option year.
Soria is now a free-agent, though Moore seemed guarded when asked about re-signing Soria.
“That’s something I don’t want to talk about publicly,” Moore said. “We love Joakim and what he has done for us and the 160 saves. We’ll certainly do everything we can to stay in the game with Joakim and his free-agency.”