Surprising Santana suspension tough blow for already mediocre Twins
Ervin Santana won’t make his anticipated Twins debut on Wednesday. In fact, Santana won’t be making it until July, as Major League Baseball announced on Friday that he will be suspended without pay for the first 80 games of the 2015 season following a positive test for the synthetic anabolic steroid Stanozolol. Santana is the third pitcher to receive an 80-game Stanozolol suspension this spring, following Mariners lefty David Rollins and Braves righty Arodys Vizcaino, the latter of whom just had his suspension announced on Thursday.
The ban is the latest twist in what has been an particularly curvy career path for the Dominican-born Santana, whose effectiveness with his original team, the Angels, varied wildly from season to season (bWAR totals from 2005 to '12: 0.8, 2.9, -0.4, 5.0, -0.2, 3.0, 3.0, -1.3). Following that last, disastrous season with the Halos—in which he led the majors with 39 home runs allowed, the most given up by any pitcher in any of the last three seasons—Santana signed a one-year deal with the Angels and rebounded yet again with a 2.9 bWAR season. However, after rejecting Kansas City’s qualifying offer that November, he struggled to cash in on his strong showing, ultimately settling for a one-year deal from the Braves in mid-March.
After another solid season in Atlanta in 2014, Santana again rejected a qualifying offer, but this time managed to land a four-year, $55 million deal from the Twins to cover his age-32 to -35 seasons. The value of that deal, which drew multiple negative comparisons from me upon its announcement in December, just dropped to $47.3 million—the suspension will cost Santana $6.6 million in salary.
This all clearly comes as a surprise to the Twins, as they had already set their 25-man roster with Santana following Opening Day starter Phil Hughes in the rotation. In the short term, this will create an opportunity for 31-year Mike Pelfrey, who was outspoken about his disappointment in being moved to the bullpen and desire to be traded last weekend. As he told the St. Paul Pioneer-Press’s Mike Berardino, “If some team realizes I’m healthy for the first time in years and thinks I can help them, let’s do it.” Pelfrey, who is entering his walk year, backed off those comments the next day and has already been announced as Santana’s replacement in the rotation. Twenty-eight-year-old rookie lefty Aaron Thompson has been recalled to take Pelfrey’s spot in the bullpen and Santana’s spot on the roster.
In the long term, Santana's suspension could create opportunity for 25-year-old righty Trevor May or the Twins' top pitching prospect, Alex Meyer. The 25-year-old righty had a solid showing in Triple A last year and was rated the 14th-best prospect in baseball this winter by Baseball Prospectus (though just the 62nd-best by Baseball America).
As for the impact on the Twins’ season: To paraphrase Branch Rickey’s cruel remarks to the late Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner, they would have finished in last place with him, and they can finish in last place without him. Of course, Minnesota won’t be entirely without him, as Santana will be back in the second half. The Twins’ 81st game is scheduled for Saturday, July 4 in Kansas City, though rain-outs could change that. The Twins should be pretty well sunk by then, of course. They're clearly the weakest in a division featuring one team that has won four straight AL Central crowns (Detroit), one that won last year’s pennant (Kansas City), another popular sleeper pick (Cleveland) and one that is significantly improved from a year ago (Chicago).