The reports are funneling in that Ervin Santana's price tag is not dropping from the four-year, $50 million plateau, despite this being a considerable decline from the opening rumors that he was seeking a five-year deal worth $65 million or more, also known as the Anibal Special.
And really, this has been the pattern of the last two seasons, since the implementation of the new rules regarding compensation and qualifying offers. In theory, it would have been a good practice: teams that finished in the bottom-third would have incentive to sign free agents, thus ensuring more competitive balance.
There are two problems, though. The first being that good players get to decide where and when they want to play. If you don't want to play for Minnesota because they are more than likely going to end up losing 90+ games with or without you, regardless of how much money they are offering you, that is your prerogative. In this way, the system reveals a hidden truth; free agents, particularly good ones, want to play for good teams. Consistently good teams are the ones who spend more money. Due to the new compensation rules, they can not spend money on certain players without suffering some moderate to severe consequences.
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The second problem is that bad teams aren't necessarily trying to get better now, or at least aren't willing to spend exorbitant amounts of money for marginal improvement, particularly when that improvement doesn't positively affect the organization's bottom line. So, of the ten teams that are covered by the draft compensation guidelines, how many of them would realistically have wanted to pay Ervin Santana $50 million to win an extra two or three games?
The new guidelines, however, do create an interesting inflection point for certain players, particularly ones that seem to have an inflated sense of their worth as a product while also being tagged with qualifying offers. Last year, Kyle Lohse accepted a deal to play for Milwaukee, presumably because it was the offer that paid him the most money. Here's what I wrote about him last year at the time:
Granted, [Lohse] wasn't the best pitcher on the market (though he certainly wants to be paid like one). And he doesn't have the high-end success that most people covet out of their big free agent expenditures. But Lohse is still a good, quality arm that most contending teams would slot in at #3 or #4. Is part of the reason that Lohse is still a free agent concern over his less-than-stellar peripherals coupled with a Scott Boras mindset on asking price? Sure. That plays a part. But what clearly is driving away interest is the baggage that he carries with him; namely, in the form of draft compensation.
Fast-forward to 2014, and you have Lohse Part Deux: The Santana Story. Ervin believes he has earned a four-year, $50 million contract. And the truth is, there may be, or at least might have been, a team willing to pay him $50 million, but that team was probably within the bottom ten of the standings last season, be it Minnesota or Chicago or the other Chicago. Teams that win 60ish games and are likely to do so for the foreseeable future just aren't popular destinations, as Royals fans may attest.
There clearly has not been a team willing to pay him $50 million and forfeit a first-round pick and the slot money that accompanies it.
So, part of the problem is the draft pick, and moreover the draft money that is attached to it. Part of it is Santana's asking price is probably still a bit high for a good-not-great type starter with some concerns. Another entirely reasonable part would seem to be that Santana isn't interested in pitching for a non-contender just to make more money. That's commendable in and of itself.
So, we're reaching, or have reached, an interesting crossroads: Ervin Santana can take the largest deal he can get and possibly settle for a non-contender. Or, he can take a cut from what he perceives his value to be and pitch for a team that is likely to see the postseason.
Or, he can sit at home. All the other channels seem to have run dry.