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Ervin Santana’s roller-coaster Twins career was worth the ride

August 21, 2018

Ervin Santana’s Twins career appears to be over, and if so it looks like this: Hideous, ugly bookends on an otherwise nice shelf.

It started about as poorly as could be imagined, with Santana getting suspended 80 games for a positive PED test just days before the start of the 2015 season (and about an hour before the Star Tribune’s special Twins section was set to print, sending everyone in the office scurrying to remake countless pages that involved Santana).

It’s ending about as poorly as could be imagined, with Santana’s finger injury healing slowly this spring, then still bothering him through five very rough starts in 24 ⅔ innings before landing him back on the disabled list again with barely more than a month left in a lost Twins season. It seems unlikely Santana will pitch again this year, and it’s even less likely that the Twins will pay him a $14 million salary (team option) in 2019 and instead will spend $1 million to sever ties.

Don’t let that influence you too much, though, when considering Santana’s complete body of work.

From the time came back midway through 2015 until the end of the 2017, he was everything advertised and more.

The totals over that 2½-year span: 80 durable starts, a 3.47 ERA, seven complete games, four shutouts and an All-Star Game appearance in 2017. He was one of the lone bright spots during the (almost) Total System Failure of 2016, and there’s no chance the Twins would have won 85 games and qualified as a wild card in 2017 without Santana’s 16 wins, 3.28 ERA and 211 ⅓ innings.

His playoff start in Yankee Stadium was a clunker, but it’s probably safe to say the finger was a problem. He’s also not the first Twin to have a bad game in October in New York, nor will he likely be the last.

In terms of clubhouse influence, it’s been written that Santana was a positive role model for Jose Berrios and other young pitchers.

Former GM Terry Ryan had a checkered history with midlevel free agent pitchers. Ricky Nolasco, on a four-year deal similar to Santana’s, was a disaster. Phil Hughes was great in 2014, but Ryan was too quick to extend a team-friendly deal that quickly went south when Hughes developed injury woes. Mike Pelfrey wasn’t outrageously expensive, but Ryan got what he paid for (and went back for more).

Santana, though? He delivered on his contract even when considering the awful bookends. He did so with the eye test. And he did so with FanGraphs’ analytics-based approach.

Consider: Santana’s deal was worth $55 million guaranteed over four years, though it was more like $49 million considering he forfeited about $6 million in 2015 from the suspension.

FanGraphs says Santana was still worth $11.3 million in 2015, $25.8 million in 2016 and $22.9 million last season based on his performance. This year has been rough, with him being a minus-$4.1 million in those five bad starts. But add it up, and the total value is $55.9 million.

For the better part of his deal, Santana was an above-average starter on a team desperate for one. It didn’t start well or end well, but he should be appreciated and he will be missed.

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