Considering Ubaldo Jimenez was mediocre in 2011 (a 4.86 ERA in 188 1/3 innings) and dreadful in 2012 (his 0.1 WAR was the third-worst among qualified starters, according to FanGraphs), the four-year, $50 million contract he reportedly agreed to with Baltimore on Monday evening doesn’t exactly look like a bargain – and further illustrated why a reunion between the Royals and free-agent starter Ervin Santana feels so unlikely.
One reason it feels that way: General manager Dayton Moore has said, repeatedly, that he does not expect the team to return Santana. "I don’t see a fit," was how he phrased it on Sunday morning, a reference to the financial commitment still required to make a deal. Moore conceded members of his front office have checked in with Santana’s representatives "periodically." That appears to be little more than due diligence.
With Jimenez off the board, Santana is now probably the best value remaining among the four free agents still tied down by draft-pick compensation. The other three are outfielder Nelson Cruz, shortstop Stephen Drew and first baseman Kendrys Morales. Like Santana, they all rejected a one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer to elect free agency.
The Orioles sacrificed the No. 17 pick in the 2014 draft to sign Jimenez. One advantage for the Royals, if they truly wanted to pursue Santana, is they would not have to give up a draft pick to sign him. But they continue to say that outcome is a long shot.
Early in the offseason, the organization decided retaining Santana would be difficult. Reports floated about Santana seeking a $100 million deal. They moved forward, signed Jason Vargas to a four-year, $32 million pact and maintained a search for one more starter. The lines of communication remained open with Santana, but the team chose a cheaper route with Bruce Chen.
After that $4.25 million contract became official, the prospect of Santana coming back shrank even further.
So what would it take for Santana to be a Royal again? Desperation of his part. The team seems unlikely to grant a four-year contract, and Jimenez just showed that four-year contracts are still available this late in the winter.