Ervin Santana is no longer a free agent as the 31-year-old right-handed pitcher agreed to a one-year, $14.1 million deal with the Atlanta Braves despite the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays being the main contenders.
The Braves’ rotation has been riddled with injuries and ineffectiveness all throughout spring training thus far, so bringing in Santana made sense for both parties. It allows the Braves to address a need as they hope to maintain their staying power in the NL East and it allows for Santana to showcase his stuff as a potential top three rotation starter. This will also be the first time in his career where he will play for a National League ballclub, so the change of scenery could bring about offers following the 2014 season that even Santana himself didn’t know existed.
What this means for the Orioles is that they have to move forward with the free agent pickups they’ve made thus far and focus on evaluating the guys they have on their roster as they are likely the candidates who they will roll into battle with when the Boston Red Sox come to town March 31.
Looking at the potential starting rotation as of now, here is what it could look like with two and a half weeks before the first pitch at Opening Day:
1. RHP Chris Tillman
2. RHP Ubaldo Jimenez
3. LHP Wei-Yin Chen
4. RHP Miguel Gonzalez
5. RHP Bud Norris
That is purely based off of speculation of course, but the Orioles are still in much better position this season in regards to their starting pitching than they were last season. Bringing in Santana would have been an upgrade, no doubt about it. It would have reinforced the “win now” mentality that seems to be in the Orioles’ clubhouse and front office given the current makeup of the roster. But there are some positives in letting the free agent find another home in Major League Baseball.
For the Orioles, they can still see what players such as LHP Zach Britton have to offer. There were rumors that if Santana had been acquired by the Birds, Baltimore would look into shopping either Britton or Norris — Bud is set to make $5.3 million this year — to potentially free up some space on the roster and also save a little change in the process. It is no secret that Britton has underachieved during his tenure in Baltimore, but this is his best opportunity to showcase what he can bring to the club either as a starter, spot starter or relief pitcher.
Looking at what Britton has done, he could possibly be slated for a role that is a combination of what fellow lefties T.J. McFarland and Troy Patton provided the club last year. He could be that long reliever like McFarland who comes in during non-pressure situations or situations where he has to clean up the starter’s mess. He could come in after the fifth or sixth inning to serve as a middle relief pitcher like Patton by providing a stopgap between the setup man and the starter.
He has to make the roster first as he is very much on the bubble given what his Big League career has been.
Then, there is Norris.
Norris will likely be this team’s No. 4 or No. 5 starter once the season begins, but he also has the potential to contribute to this team in the bullpen as well. If RHP Tommy Hunter struggles with consistency as he has been entrusted with the closer role for the 2014 season, the Orioles could look to Norris to fill the void. Plus, in bringing over Norris at the trade deadline last summer, seeing what he can offer the Orioles over a full body of work is worth the risk.
If the Orioles were to bring in Santana, Gausman and Bundy would have been more relegated to minor league duty with not as much of a chance to crack the rotation and develop at the MLB level. Yoon, who is projected as a reliever to begin with, may have never received that chance for a spot start. Gausman is much further ahead in the development process than Bundy as Dylan is still in rehabilitation mode to ensure he is 100% healthy and it remains to be seen as to what Yoon can offer coming over from the KBO. Gausman on the other hand, has a much better chance to contribute on the club this season as the rotation is not overly crowded. If someone falters in either the bullpen or as a starter, the Birds may look to Gausman to garner more Major League service time and become a serious contributor.
Bringing in Ervin Santana would have upgraded the Orioles, but not having him on the roster helps Baltimore develop their youngsters and see what their veterans can offer to the club going forward.