With spring injuries to starters' Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, the Braves signed right-hander Ervin Santana to a one-year, $14.1 million deal on Wednesday. ESPN's Enrique Rojas and CBS Sports' Jon Heyman first reported the signing.
Santana went 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA and 1.14 WHIP with the Royals in 2013, recording his best season since 2008 with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The righty entered the offseason with faint hopes for a multi-year contract worth $100 million, but the market for the 31-year-old's services never developed. As a result of the signing, Atlanta will forfeit the 26th overall pick in June to Kansas City.
Santana didn't get what he ultimately wanted, but fantasy owners gained an underrated starter in NL-only and mixed leagues (sorry AL-only league players). According to reports as recent as early this week, Santana's leading suitors included a pair of American League East teams -- the Orioles and the Blue Jays. Instead, Santana will call the National League his home for the first time in his career. Staying out of the AL -- and the AL East specifically -- will help sustain Santana's value as a viable mixed-league starter.
Last season, the nine-year veteran re-established himself after a dismal year in Los Angeles, when he posted a 5.16 ERA and allowed a major-league worst 39 home runs and 1.97 home runs-per-nine innings. According to ESPN Park Factors, Turner Field ranked in the bottom third in home runs allowed per game in 2013, while Kaufmann Stadium (Royals), Rogers Centre (Blue Jays) at Oriole Park at Camden Yards all ranked in the upper third. The move to Atlanta should benefit Santana, but keep in mind that Los Angeles was one of the friendlier parks for pitchers in 2012 when Santana allowed 39 long balls. Turner Field's spacious dimensions won't automatically save him if his fly-ball rate returns to career norms (40.7 percent); last year, it was a career-low 32.9 percent, while his 46.2 percent groundball rate represented a career-high.
At the very least, Santana should once again be a reliable source of innings for the depleted Braves' rotation. He's averaged 210-plus innings over the past three seasons, topping 200 frames in three of four years while making 30-plus starts each time. STEAMER projects a 3.99 ERA while ZiPS estimates a 4.26 ERA, but I think both projections are on the high side. I see Santana recording closer to a 3.50-3.75 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. He's a very efficient starter, going six innings or more in 29 of 32 starts last season. An innings' eater is just what Atlanta needs, and he should secure upwards of 10 wins with normal run support. In leagues with quality starts, Santana is a sneaky source.
After striking out 178 batters in 2012, Santana's strikeout numbers have dropped the last two seasons (133 in 2012; 161 in 2013). His strikeout rate has been league average, so expecting a giant uptick in Ks is unlikely. However, Santana's swinging strike rate increased to 10 percent in 2013 (up from 8.4 percent), so there could be some growth -- still, I wouldn't expect anything greater than 165. His biggest gains have come in the form of fewer walks, with a career-best 5.9 percent walk rate in 2013 (down from eight percent). If he can continue to limit the free passes, we should see Santana post a sub-1.20 WHIP for the second consecutive season.
In the AL East, I'd tell you to avoid Santana at all costs. Now that he's in the NL, he's worthy of being drafted as a back-end starter (No. 4/No. 5) in standard mixed leagues. If you've already drafted, there's a small chance he went unclaimed, so check to see if he's available. Overall, Santana should be a league-average contributor in strikeouts with ratios that won't hurt your pitching staff. Keep in mind -- he might not be ready until mid-to-late April with a late start in spring training.