Now that Masahiro Tanaka and Matt Garza are unavailable, teams seeking rotation upgrades in free agency have two primary options: Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez.
It’s been a quiet winter for the Toronto Blue Jays, but Alex Anthopoulos said Friday that he’s not done exploring the starting pitching market yet. The Blue Jays GM told reporters in Vancouver that he hopes to “be able to add a little bit more” before opening day.
Santana and Jimenez, the top two free agent starters now available, are on the Blue Jays’ radar. Either pitcher would improve a Blue Jays rotation that combined to post a 4.81 ERA in 2013. Though the Blue Jays say they aren’t prepared to overpay, they could clearly use another starter. Both Santana and Jimenez appear to be seeking lucrative multiyear contracts and are tied to draft pick compensation.
Without mentioning Santana or Jimenez by name, Anthopoulos suggested last week that the free agent market could continue to develop slowly. “Some of these players that have draft pick compensation attached to them, it would not surprise me to see them go into February and even into March,” he said.
Even so, there’s still a chance that the Blue Jays add a prominent free agent arm before opening day. So how do Santana and Jimenez compare? Here’s a buyer’s guide to the top two arms available:
Age: 31 2013 stats: 3.24 ERA, 211 innings, 161 strikeouts, 51 walks, 190 hits, 26 home runs, 3.0 wins above replacement Injury history: no recent injuries (battled elbow soreness in 2009 and 2010) Draft pick implications: linked to draft pick compensation; Blue Jays would have to surrender 2014 second round pick to complete deal (49th overall) Agency: Proformance
The case for Santana: The Blue Jays need steady innings, and Santana pitches deep into games. He completed six innings or more in 29 of his 32 starts, while Jimenez lasted six innings in 16 of his 32 starts. Santana pitched 211 innings last year, a threshold that has eluded Jimenez since 2010.
Now 31, Santana has completed 30 starts or more in each of the last four seasons. He has made at least 20 starts in each one of his nine MLB seasons.
While critics are quick to point out Santana’s home run rates, his 2013 home run rate (1.11 HR/9) compares closely to the average for American League starters (1.09 HR/9). He has maintained an average fastball velocity in the 92-93 mph range, while Jimenez’s velocity has diminished in each of the last three seasons. Santana also limits walks better than Jimenez, giving out 2.8 free passes per nine compared to Ubaldo’s 4.0.
Age: 30 2013 stats: 3.30 ERA, 182.2 innings, 194 strikeouts, 80 walks, 194 hits, 16 home runs, 3.2 wins above replacement Injury history: one disabled list stint from 2011-13 (torn cuticle on right pitching thumb, 2011) Draft pick implications: linked to draft pick compensation; Blue Jays would have to surrender 2014 second round pick to complete deal (49th overall) Agency: Relativity Sports
The case for Jimenez: Jimenez turned 30 this month, which makes him one of the off-season’s youngest free agent arms. He has also started at least 30 games in each of the past five seasons, proving his durability.
Jimenez has a lower career home run rate than Santana despite having pitched at altitude in Coors Field for six seasons. He also strikes out more batters per inning than Santana with 194 strikeouts in 2013.
The 6’5″ right-hander pitched tremendously down the stretch, helping the Indians reach the post-season. After struggling through his first nine starts of the year, Jimenez posted a 2.41 ERA with 147 strikeouts in his final 23 outings.