The Royals didn’t wait long to address a pressing need for 2013 as they acquired former All-Star right-hander Ervin Santana on Wednesday from the Los Angeles Angels.
The Angels received Royals minor-league left-hander Brandon Sisk in return.
“Coming into this offseason our vision is very clear,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said, “we want to do everything we can possible to upgrade our starting rotation and Ervin Santana clearly does that.”
This season, Royals’ starting pitchers ranked 26th in the major leagues with a 5.01 ERA.
Santana, who turns 30 on Dec. 12, has a career record of 96-80 with a 4.33 ERA in eight seasons. He’s reached double digits in victories in five seasons and has proved to be a workhorse, pitching an average of 210 innings over the last three years. An All-Star in 2008, Santana also threw a no-hitter against the Indians in 2011.
“We wanted to get guys who have the mindset of a No. 1 starter and the ability to pitch innings,” Moore said. “Ervin certainly has that.”
While Santana struggled last season, finishing 9-13 with a 5.16 ERA with a major-league worst 39 home runs allowed, he turned things around after a rough start. On July 21, he was 4-10 with a 6.00 ERA, but over the next 10 starts, Santana was 5-2 with a 3.91 ERA as the Angels made a playoff push.
“I didn’t have any physical problems (last season),” Santana said in a conference call. “Everything was good. I just had bad luck. I was pitching good, and then I didn’t have any opportunity to win a lot of games.”
Santana welcomed the challenge of being the top dog on the Royals’ staff.
“If they give me the opportunity, I’ll be ready for it,” he said. “I’ll be 100 percent ready for it.”
Santana’s $13 million option for 2013 was exercised by the Angels before the trade, and Moore said Los Angeles sent a small amount of cash as part of the deal. The Los Angeles Times reported it was $1 million.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Royals declined their 2013 option of closer Joakim Soria’s contract, making him a free agent. The move triggered a buyout of $750,000 and voided the Royals’ $8 million option for the 2013 season, although the Royals hope to retain him.
Soria, who made $6 million this year, missed the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery for the second time in his career.
The Royals’ payroll was $64 million this season, but owner David Glass previously indicated he will spend more money on pitching. Moore added that having Santana in the last year of his four-year, $30 million contract gives the Royals flexibility moving forward.
“It’s a one-year deal. It does affect our payroll in 2013 with a high dollar amount, but in ’14 and ’15, it doesn’t affect us, so we’re still able to do some things in a creative way if we want to add another free agent,” Moore said.
“We can backload whoever we end up signing or whoever we end up trading for. We can structure the contract in a way that allows us to balance the dollars out.”
And Moore was clear that the Halloween day trade is not the end of the rotation upgrade during the offseason.
“We’re not done,” Moore said. “We’re going to try to continue to upgrade our rotation through trades that make sense, continue to work internally to evaluate our young pitchers, perhaps one or two of our guys in the bullpen and we’re certainly going to explore free agency.”
In the near term, the Royals will have to make some roster moves by Friday. They have a full compliment of players on their 40-man roster with decisions on three pitchers on the 60-day disabled list (Danny Duffy, Felipe Paulino and Blake Wood) due by Friday.
Sisk, 27, was 3-2 with a 2.54 ERA and eight saves in 50 appearances with Triple-A Omaha this season. He was signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2008. He is currently pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he appeared in three games, allowing three runs on three hits.
The Royals, who likely would have made Sisk available in the Rule 5 draft, seemed to get Santana at a good price. And although he’s going from a contender to a team that lost 90 games, Santana is eager to get started in Kansas City.
“The Royals have a very good team, they have good young talent, they can hit and they’ve got a good defense,” Santana said. “It’s very exciting.”