First Decision: Sanata to Receive Qualifying Offer

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According to MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, the Atlanta Braves will be extending a qualifying offer to free agent pitcher Ervin Santana by this afternoon’s deadline:

The mechanics of this move are as follows:

  • Atlanta will formally offer a single-year contract worth $15.3 million.
  • This would make him a ‘qualified’ free agent, and thus allow Atlanta to collect an extra draft pick as “compensation” for the loss of his services to another team (if he indeed signs elsewhere).
  • The other requirement for this compensation has already been met:  Santana was on the Atlanta roster for the entire 2014 season.

Ben pretty much predicted this move over the weekend, though there was the uncertainty over whether Atlanta would actually commit to this salary level (which would make him the highest-paid Brave).  After all, there is a chance that he could accept the offer.

In 2014, Santana was paid $14.1 million, which was the level of the qualifying offer a year ago.  This was done for ’emergency’ reasons, having lost both Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy on consecutive days during Spring training.  At the time, Atlanta gave up its own first round pick to do so (though picked up a later pick via the loss of Brian McCann).  But it’s that specter of having the loss of a 1st round draft pick hanging over the process that makes this particular Qualifying Offer decision so interesting.  

To Sign or Not to Sign

Ervin Santana (30). Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

A year ago, Kansas City “lost” Santana to free agency.  But Santana remained unsigned through mid-March.  Baltimore and Toronto were courting him, but were also attempting to get him at a lower price – reportedly a 4 year deal at around $50 million.  But teams were balking at that figure.

Was Santana the pitcher that gave the Royals an ERA+ performance of 127 in 2013?  Was he the pitcher than gave the Angels a 74 in 2012?  Would you want to commit dollars – and a draft pick – to somebody for 4 years who was already on the north side of 30 years old and typically threw well only half of the time (above 100 ERA+ 5 times, below 4 times… now 5 after a 92 in 2014)?

That explains why he was available in March 2014 when the Braves were desperate for help.  It also explains why Santana might be in the very same boat for 2015… and why he might actually be better off signing the offer sheet that Atlanta is poised to give him this afternoon.  After all, $15.3m now means the 31-year-old is still available for a future longer-term deal… and barring injury, he’s still looking at 8-figures per year.  

The Bird in the Hand

$15.3 million is a lot of money.  It represents a raise of nearly 10% of 2014.  Given his 2013-14 off-season contract demands, it’s even better.

Are there teams that need pitching?  You bet. Are there teams that have the money?  Yep.  Heck, the Giants handed Tim Hudson an average of $11.5 million for 2014-15 just last year… nearly the $13m that Santana wanted for each of 4 years.

MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes thinks he’ll land a 4x$14m deal.  Ben suggested that he was worth $15.6 million in 2014 (via fangraphs).  Dave O’Brien of the AJC tweeted his opinion that he’s worth something north of 3 years/$30m (I concur – that would be a relative bargain).

But then there’s that draft pick thing and the first round pick carries a lot of “slot money” with it, so it not just the draft pick… it’s also the pool money.  Why is that important?  Just ask the Houston Astros.  In a colossal failure, they blew getting three high draft picks for the price of the first.

So does Ervin #SMELLTHEMONEY and take it?  Or does he go ahead and play the market once again?

My bet is the latter:  he wants the security of that 4-year deal.  But it is a close call.

UPDATES:  these just in…

First off, this exactly illustrates my point:  Santana is a “marginal-qualifying-offer-level” guy in terms of value and compensation, so the draft pick matters.

Second, the Braves don’t really care about any posturing that might or might not be taking place.  The reason for that is given below.  Yes – it stretches that budget… but there are ways they can deal with that (non-tenders and trades).

The Braves’ Thinking

On the Braves’ side, it’s really a no-lose situation at this point:  they need pitching.  The departure of Santana and Aaron Harang leaves a large hole in the rotation.  So if they fail to retain either, they will likely have to spend large dollars to replace those pitchers regardless of how that’s done.

Santana was expensive, sure, but Harang was probably the best performing pitching for the money among all players not under team control via the arbitration process:  $1 million.  That won’t happen this time around.  They’ll have to spend to fill those holes.

Once that Qualifying Offer is delivered, Santana has a week to decide whether to sign.

We’ll keep watching.

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