Nearly universally, writers and fans applauded Rob Antony for trading Ricky Nolasco to Anaheim, along with Alex Meyer, for Hector Santiago. I am firmly on record as disagreeing with this assessment. Hector Santiago has markedly worse metrics than Nolasco, and away from the Angels outfield, he started having results that reflected that. Meanwhile, Nolasco has been extremely effective in California (and Alex Meyer seems prepared to spend most of his season with the big league club as well). What’s done is done, however, and the Twins will need to move forward with Santiago.
How long they can stomach him will be a good metric for how well the team is actually doing. Here are the two fundamental Santiago related issues: He walks too many people and he gives up way too many home runs. That can be somewhat mitigated by having a good outfield defense, like was the case in both Chicago and Los Angeles. This might be the case in Minnesota, but he worked predominantly with the outfield he will have in 2017: Rosario, Buxton and Kepler, and posted the worst stretch of his career.
In Minnesota, he struck out even fewer batters than is normal for him, and gave up homers at a much greater rate than his career average. There should be a bit of moderation to last year’s numbers, but even before that, his career FIP (which have been optimistic for the Twins of late) is 4.73. It’s simply voodoo magic that has kept him afloat in the league so far. That and a stellar defense, allowing him to overcome his inefficiencies. If you want a bit more concrete, forward-thinking projection, Fangraphs estimates 1.1 WAR for Santiago. That would be the second highest of his career, despite his ERAs and an All Star Game appearance.
Right now, because of the trade and because of the salary, Santiago is definitely in the rotation next year. It’s a messy rubric, but if we assess the forecast WAR/100 of the potential starters in the Twins organization, Santiago is 7th. He trails the obvious candidates, like Ervin Santana and Kyle Gibson, as well as the young up and comers that will likely have a stake this year, such as Tyler Duffey and Jose Berrios. Then there is also Phil Hughes, coming off of a major surgery. And Adalberto Mejia, the other pitcher the Twins traded for at the deadline, is also slotted ahead of Santiago. And then, if you look at Dave Szymborski’s ZiPS projections (also on Fangraphs), Stephen Gonsalves will be more valuable than Santiago. All this before any potential Brian Dozier trade, which would likely also bring in a pitcher.
The Twins seemingly have a logjam in the back of the rotation, even before we consider someone like Trevor May. There will be two preserved spots throughout the year: Ervin Santana and Kyle Gibson. Some people believe that a third spot will be Santiago”s for the year, but if pitching prospects develop as hoped, it is in Minnesota’s best interest to cut ties with Santiago to clear the space.