Buster Olney: Ervin Santana

Ervin SantanaJamie Squire/Getty ImagesWith three weeks to go before Opening Day, Ervin Santana remains a free agent.
It’s worth documenting, again, all that Ervin Santana did well last year:

• Only 24 starting pitchers who qualified for the ERA title posted a lower number than his 3.24.
• Only 19 pitchers had a lower WHIP.
• His strikeout-walk ratio of 3.16 ranked 35th in the majors.
• Santana held opposing hitters to a .668 OPS, ranking 27th.
• He pitched 211 innings -- only 16 pitchers threw more in 2013.

So he had a really good season, bolstered by his sturdy reputation as being a good guy -- a positive clubhouse presence, someone invested in the esprit de corps.

But with three weeks to go before the Padres and Dodgers play the first game of the season in North America, Santana is still not signed. He is reportedly talking about a one-year deal with the Blue Jays or the Orioles or another team, and if he gets something in the range of $14 million, this will be about $100 million less than what club officials say the initial asking price for him was.

A lot of factors have contributed to him being in this position, from the concerns that some clubs have about whether his elbow will hold up through a multiyear deal, the fact that he’s tied to draft-pick compensation, and the reality that 17 months ago, the regard for Santana was so compromised that he was nearly non-tendered by the Angels.

But the essential truth is that his side completely misread the market, setting a price way too high at the outset and then reacting too slowly as available jobs and money evaporated.

The relationship between a player and his representation can be complicated, and in the end, there are almost always multiple versions of conversations and expectations. Sometimes the player can drive the discussion, sometimes it's player’s parents or spouse or most trusted friend, and sometimes it’s the agents. Sometimes it can be the union, depending on how assertive the player and the agent are. And the guess here is that whoever actually generated and drove the idea of Santana as a $112 million player isn’t going to jump up and down and brag about it today.

The fact is that nobody who takes a paycheck from a team saw Santana as a $100 million-plus pitcher. Nobody. The fact is that Santana should’ve gotten more than what he's expected to receive now, at least comfortably slotting into the group of pitchers like Ricky Nolasco, Matt Garza and Edwin Jackson. Those are pitchers who have been good but have never been elite, as Clayton Kershaw, CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander and Cliff Lee have been.

The Royals wanted him back, but after their overtures in September were rebuffed, they took their available dollars and invested $32 million in Jason Vargas, who has never posted an ERA within half a run of what Santana did last year. Other teams checked in on Santana during the offseason, heard the asking price and moved on; when some doubled back, the numbers still hadn’t come down enough to coax an offer.

Speaking generally to USA Today, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin explained how the high price tags can affect interest. From Bob Nightengale’s piece:

Several GMs and executives say maybe it's time for these players to look in the mirror. They all rejected the $14.1 million qualifying offers from their original teams, and when they hit the market, some of the rumored contract requests scared teams.

"I do see these numbers that come out early that say, 'Oh, he's going to get $100 million,'" Brewers GM Doug Melvin says. "You read that stuff, and then you say, well, there's no sense in me even making a phone call if those are the numbers."


All agents want to push the numbers as high as they can, but some say privately that it is absolutely crucial to be tethered to an understanding of how the player is perceived in the market. One high-ranking executive said Friday that he is asked by agents all the time to offer assessments of what a fair deal for their clients would be -- like Rick Harrison from the TV show "Pawn Stars," who will call in an expert for an opinion before negotiating a price.

In the case of Santana, there was a total disconnect between the asking price and how the industry viewed him from the outset of the offseason.

Because of this, somebody is going to get him for a good price.
Ervin SantanaAP Photo/Ben MargotThere really isn't a logical fit for free agent Ervin Santana at this point.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Ervin Santana fired agent Bean Stringfellow, according to Dionisio Soldevila of ESPNDeportes, and he will represent himself. It's hard to know exactly what will come out of this at this stage in the winter, with so many teams essentially operating with a closed budget.

There were teams interested in Santana in a moderate-sized contract early in the offseason -- something in the Ubaldo Jimenez salary range, three years at $35-plus million or four years at roughly $50 million -- but at that time, the asking price for Santana was over $100 million.

The Kansas City Royals, who had approached Santana about an extension in September, loved him last season, but it's unclear whether they have enough dollars to woo him back.

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Ervin Santana, Nelson Cruz, Ubaldo JimenezGetty ImagesErvin Santana, Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez -- members of "The Draft Pick Five" -- still wait.
TAMPA, Fla. -- An AL executive drew an analogy the other day between the situation facing "The Draft Pick Five" free agents -- Nelson Cruz, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales -- and the sale of a house.

“If the price on the house is set and it just sits there and nobody's buying at that price,” the executive said, “isn’t there a time when the reality of the market sets in and the price comes down?”

Players are reporting to spring training all over the baseball landscape, and those five players -- five veterans tied to draft-pick compensation -- remain unsigned, fueling the most-asked question in the industry these days: Where will those players land

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A predictable bidding war 

February, 6, 2014
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Bronson ArroyoAP Photo/Jaime Henry-WhiteBronson Arroyo isn't among the game's better starters, but some covet his predictability.
Bronson Arroyo has been like baseball’s version of an old, dependable pickup truck. The odometer is well over 100,000 miles at this point, but year after year, he always starts, in all kinds of weather...

2004: 27 starts, 178.2 innings
2005: 32 starts, 205.1 innings
2006: 35 starts, 240.2 innings
2007: 34 starts, 210.2 innings
2008: 34 starts, 200 innings
2009: 33 starts, 220.1 innings
2010: 33 starts 215.2 innings
2011: 32 starts 199 innings
2012: 32 starts 202 innings
2013: 32 starts 202 innings

That's one whole decade of taking the ball on the day you’re supposed to pitch, start after start. An evaluator who works for a team currently bidding on Arroyo says that there will be days that the right-hander might give up a crooked number in the first inning, but when you look up in the fifth or sixth inning, Arroyo usually has been through the lineup twice -- and at the very least, he’s competed, kept your team within range and saved your relievers for the day.

“He’s not a bullpen-killer,” said the evaluator. “Some pitchers just kill your bullpen, but Bronson will get you into the middle of the game. He’s predictable.”

Among remaining starters on the free-agent market

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Ubaldo JimenezBrace Hemmelgarn/Getty ImagesIt's looking more likely that Ubaldo Jimenez's best offer will come from the Indians.
Masahiro Tanaka has reportedly agreed to a record-setting deal with the New York Yankees, and the expectation will be, in some circles, that the winter freeze will finally end and the phones will start to ring for Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza and others.

But what if this isn't the case? What if the bidding on Tanaka is almost completely isolated from the rest of the pitching market, as some team officials strongly suspect?

"I'm not in the camp that thinks [Tanaka] is related to the others," said one evaluator. Rather, he said, what will generally happen is that it will come out that "most of these guys were asking for too many years, and too much money."

The Los Angeles Dodgers, who wanted Tanaka, have a spot to fill in their rotation, but they might well pass on Garza, Santana and Jimenez.

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Free-agent system needs fixing 

January, 3, 2014
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Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana Getty ImagesJimenez and Santana have received only moderate interest due to draft-pick compensation.
The five most prominent unsigned free agents -- Nelson Cruz, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, Kendrys Morales, and Stephen Drew -- are being weighed down by more than the draft-pick compensation to which they are tied.

Drew and Morales have each suffered horrific leg injuries in recent seasons, and the medical fallout is detailed in the reports all teams can access. Santana has had elbow trouble, and given all that we know about predicting injuries (read Russell Carlton's work on the topic here), some teams undoubtedly are wary of the possibility of a breakdown for a 31-year-old pitcher.

Cruz was suspended for his connection to Biogenesis in 2013, and given his age of 33 and the fact that he was a late bloomer -- he never had more than 350 at-bats in a season until he was 28 -- has led some executives to wonder, quite naturally, what role the performance-enhancers may have had in his success and what kind of player he is without them.

And Jimenez is seemingly a clone of A.J. Burnett: Spectacular in those periods he is at his best, a bullpen-killer the rest of the time. None of these five is close to a sure thing, and this plays a role in why it's early January and they are all looking for work.

But, as written here recently, the cost of a draft pick for a Jimenez, Santana, et al, is a deal-breaker for a lot of teams.

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Santana, Jimenez may end up staying put 

December, 17, 2013
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The most frequently asked questions at last week’s winter meetings:

1. Do you know where I can get some coffee?

2. Who were the agents who fought in the parking lot?

3. Are any moves going to happen here?

4. Have you heard anything about Masahiro Tanaka and the posting system?

5. Have you heard about any team seriously linked to Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana?

The answer to No. 5 was easy: No. Because circumstances are buzz-sawing the negotiating leverage from underneath those two veteran pitchers.

A) Santana and Jimenez are anchored to draft-pick compensation, while pitchers like Matt Garza and Tanaka are not. It has been established over the past two winters that many teams won’t even consider signing free agents attached to draft picks because they don’t want to lose the draft pick or the draft budget dollars tied to each pick.

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Ubaldo JimenezAP Photo/Paul SancyaThe rush to give Ubaldo Jimenez $100 million doesn't resemble Black Friday shopping lines thus far.
Some of the teams that targeted starting pitching thus far in free agency, like the Giants, Royals and the Twins, have done some or all of their winter work choosing from the free agents with mid-sized contracts. Ricky Nolasco, Jason Vargas, Josh Johnson, Tim Hudson and Dan Haren have come off the board.

The starting pitchers who only require short-term deals of three years or less -- Bronson Arroyo, Scott Kazmir, Phil Hughes, Bartolo Colon -- will find landing spots. If Hiroki Kuroda returns to MLB next season, he likely will return to the Yankees, given that he’s attached to draft-pick compensation.

But it’s increasingly unclear which teams will make up the market for the three starting pitchers who appeared destined to get the three biggest deals of the winter: Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, who were both given qualifying offers by their respective teams and are therefore attached to draft-pick compensation; and Matt Garza, who is not attached to draft-pick compensation.

The game of free-agent musical chairs is playing out, and that trio is still looking for landing spots, perhaps for a number of reasons.

1. The wait for Masahiro Tanaka

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An early preview of MLB free agency 

September, 1, 2013
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Ervin SantanaJamie Squire/Getty ImagesErvin Santana has pitched well for the Kansas City Royals this season.

WASHINGTON -- A lot of players will wait a decade for their shot at free agency, after being drafted and signing as an amateur, and then playing some years in the minors before accruing the six years of service time that makes them eligible to test the open market. Along the way, some have worked through injuries, had failures along with the successes and have seen their service time manipulated by teams looking to maximize their investment.

Reaching free agency, then, is a big deal, a right that the players like Curt Flood fought for. Some players never get to free agency because they’re not good enough or because they choose to sign as a very young player, and some, like Albert Pujols, get there only once.

For a lot of those players set to become free agents in another two months, the hope of spring training has been washed away. For others, the hope has been realized.

Here are 10 would-be free agents who have helped themselves so far in 2013:

1. Ervin Santana, P, Royals
At the time that Kansas City traded for him last fall, there was a lot of surprise within the industry that the Royals had been so aggressive, given Santana’s diminished velocity and brutal 2012 performance for the Angels. But Santana bounced back in a big way, lowering his ERA by almost two full runs. Now he’s 30 years old and is in position to get paid.


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Winter ball worries; top 10 moves

August, 9, 2013
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Puerto RicoAP Photo/Brennan LinsleyWinter ball has long been a place for vets to prove they still have it, or for players injured during the year to get valuable reps.
Every winter, teams encourage players to go to winter ball to learn, to play, and the vast majority of those who join a team in the Dominican Republic or Venezuela or Mexico or Puerto Rico talk about how much they glean from the experience.

The What-Have-You-Done-For-Me-Lately Factor is not higher anywhere than it is in winter ball, because the teams do not care if you’re a former first-round pick or a veteran of 10 years in the majors. If you don’t produce, you’re going to lose your job during the short and intense season.

Winter ball veterans who grew up in the U.S. or Canada talk about the benefit of being out of your comfort zone, and being forced to adapt to a new culture, as Latin American players do when they first sign with teams in Major League Baseball. But this year, it’s not a sure thing that MLB will allow players under its umbrella to participate in winter ball.

Here’s the issue: The Caribbean Federation is welcoming Cuba back into its championship series for the first time since 1960, as first reported back in June. This is a problem for Major League Baseball, which, like all businesses, is under pressure from the federal government here to not fuel a revenue stream into Cuba.

Under U.S. law, MLB is restricted from entering into any agreement with a league that includes Cuban membership without proper authorization. MLB and the Caribbean Confederation had a meeting about this Wednesday in an effort to reach a new agreement, according to a source with knowledge of the talks. The discussions will continue.

Notables

• The Orioles are said to be the most aggressive in placing waiver claims, which makes sense, given their current position in the standings, with the sixth-best record in the American League. The Orioles trail in the wild-card race by 1 1/2 games, and therefore can control access that any of the teams above them have to players on waivers.

Bryce Harper would have liked to have seen a little retaliation after he got drilled the other day.

He was on Comcast and said this:

“I think if I’m the pitcher on my team, I think I’m gonna drill somebody,” he said of the lack of retribution on Tuesday. “It’s something that’s part of the game, you know, yesterday, and it’s also something that I think could light a fire for us. But, like I said, we’re 14 1/2 games back and we don’t need anybody getting ejected or doing anything like that. We got a great team and we gotta push to the end.”


• There was a moment in Max Scherzer’s start Thursday in which he seemed to lose the strike zone, for just a moment. So he circled behind the mound and took a deep breath and gathered himself, something he didn’t always do in past years, when sometimes he couldn’t stop an inning from snowballing.

Then Scherzer climbed back up the hill and applied the last bit of wrecking ball to what remained of the Indians. When the series began, it had been possible for the Tigers to be overtaken in the standings, and instead, Detroit buried Cleveland, seven games deep, and the Indians finished the series with Ryan Raburn on the mound.

From ESPN Stats & Information: Scherzer became the first pitcher in Tigers history to be 17-1 after the first 18 decisions and according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the fifth pitcher in MLB history with at least 17 wins in his first 18 decisions of a season. He joins Rube Marquard (1912), Roger Clemens (2001), Roy Face (1959) and Don Newcombe (1955). Marquard had 18 wins, the others 17.

Entering Thursday, Scherzer ranked fifth in MLB with 78 strikeouts using his fastball. On Thursday hitters were 1-for-14 against that pitch, but he didn't record a single strikeout with the fastball and his Miss Percentage (3.7) was his the third-lowest since 2009. So how did he have so much success with his go-to pitch? Scherzer used his defense -- his In-Play Percentage of 51.9 was his highest since Aug. 2, 2011. His defense responded by not making an error while he was on the mound and the only hit he gave up via the fastball was a bases-empty, two-out single in the sixth to Jason Kipnis on a tough pitch down and away.

• The Indians will hang in there, Terry Francona said after the game. They’ve been awful against the Tigers and really good against the rest of baseball.

The news wasn’t all good for the Tigers: Alex Avila returned to Detroit for concussion tests.

• Meanwhile: The Royals won again, and now are just 1 1/2 games behind the Indians and 4 1/2 games out of the wild card.

• Mark Melancon’s cut fastball has become a significant weapon, with a late, hard downward break, down and in to left-handed batters -- with so much movement that hitters are mostly flailing at pitches out of the strike zone. Melancon is throwing the pitch about 60 percent of the time, according to Fangraphs, more than double his use of the pitch in 2012.

Like Mariano Rivera, Melancon can run his cutter in on the hands of left-handed hitters, as he does on this pitch. Left-handed batters have posted a .344 OPS against him this season, with two extra-base hits in 94 plate appearances.

• The Dodgers: You can’t stop them, you can only hope to contain them.

Best moves
[+] EnlargeErvin Santana
Anthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY SportsThe addition of Ervin Santana has been a coup for the Royals.

Jerry Crasnick has a piece that will post later today about the best moves of the offseason. Here’s my Top 10:

1. The Royals’ deal for Ervin Santana. At the time, some teams passed on Santana because they thought he was in irretrievable regression, but he has given K.C. exactly what they had hoped to buy.

2. The Atlanta blockbuster for Justin Upton and Chris Johnson. Not only did they get the middle-of-the-order slugger they wanted in Upton, but Johnson is leading the league in hitting.

3. The Orioles re-signed Nate McLouth for $2 million. McLouth made this deal happen in the 24th hour.

4. The Indians’ signing of Scott Kazmir, who rediscovered his velocity and hard slider.

5. The Rays’ low-budget signing of James Loney. They always manage to find one or two gems every year.

6. The Pirates’ signing of Francisco Liriano.

7. The Cubs’ signing of Nate Schierholtz.

8. The Tigers’ signing of Matt Tuiasosopo.

9. Shawn Kelley for the Yankees. They made a minor deal for him, and he has been excellent.

10. Cleveland’s acquisition of Yan Gomes. They got him, along with Mike Aviles, as part of a deal for Esmil Rogers, and he has been a real plus for them.

A-Rod

Alex Rodriguez returns to Yankee Stadium tonight. He says he’s looking forward to it.

According to Chris Matcovich of TiqIQ.com, the secondary ticket market for this game has erupted. He notes: On July 31, the average price for Friday’s game was $80.14. It has increased 39.94 percent since then to $112.15. Quantity is down 46.78 percent from Monday to about 5,000 tickets available.

The current get-in price is $49 (up 104.17 percent from Monday afternoon, when it was $24). The next-highest get-in price during the weekend series is Saturday, at $26.

It’s probably not a good thing for a ballplayer when the New York Times is doing favorable/unfavorable polls on you -- and the results for A-Rod are not favorable.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Mark Reynolds just stopped hitting, and he was cut by the Indians. Reynolds is owed about $1.7 million by the Indians for the rest of the season, so it’s hard to imagine that he would be claimed on waivers.

2. The Rangers did not come close to making a deal for Alex Rios before the trade deadline, so it’s hard to imagine they could get something done now. The bottom line is this: Other teams see Rios as somewhat overpriced at $12.5 million and weren’t willing to give up much in a trade for him, and the White Sox have been looking for solid return. Before the deadline, writes T.R. Sullivan, the White Sox wanted a package of three players for Rios -- so it’s hard to imagine they’d just give him away now.

3. Mike Rizzo must soon decide who to pick as a replacement for Davey Johnson, writes Amanda Comak, and she mentions that Washington could target Bo Porter, who is currently the manager of the Astros. Some of Rizzo’s friends in the game believe he will pick Matt Williams.

4. Ruben Amaro is taking a huge chance in re-signing Chase Utley, writes Bob Brookover.

Two things: First, these are decisions that are made at the highest level of the organization, so whenever we talk about the Phillies’ choices, everything -- the good and the bad -- shouldn’t be dropped at Amaro’s feet alone. And second, the part that I don’t get is essentially reinvesting in a team product that has been steadily regressing for two years. As the old saying goes: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Utley could earn $75 million.

5. The Athletics claimed Adam Rosales, as Susan Slusser writes.

6. Oakland is injecting Sonny Gray into its rotation.

Dings and dents

1. Omar Infante could be back soon.

2. The Cubs lost a reliever for the rest of the season.

3. Rickie Weeks landed on the disabled list. He is under contract for $11 million in 2014, with an option for $11.5 million in 2015.

4. Tim Wood’s comeback is officially over.

5. Andrew McCutchen is dealing with some shoulder discomfort.

6. Chris Archer expects to make his next start.

7. An Astros rookie is set to return.

Thursday’s games

1. The Cardinals are not faring well in a series of games that is testing them, writes Derrick Goold.

2. Jeff Samardzija was hit around.

3. For the third straight day, the Pirates came back to win.

4. Dillon Gee closed out a sweep.

5. Tim Lincecum had a great outing.

AL East

Dylan Bundy says he feels fine and is right where he wants to be.

Manny Machado continues to grow as a player.

Jacoby Ellsbury is back to pulling the ball with authority, writes Brian MacPherson.

• Mike Rutsey asks: What should the Blue Jays do with Adam Lind?

AL Central

• The Twins want to maximize their spots in the Arizona Fall League.

AL West

Mike Trout is unlikely to be part of the MVP debate given the Angels’ struggles, writes Alden Gonzalez. I’d respectfully disagree and here’s why: Miguel Cabrera has been dealing with some nagging injuries and if Detroit maintains its sizable lead in the AL Central, he might get more days off than he usually does, giving Trout an opportunity to build a significant statistical advantage.

I believe this, too: If Cabrera hadn’t won the Triple Crown last year -- if he had led the AL in hitting and RBIs but not in home runs -- I think Trout would have won the MVP. But once Cabrera became the first player in 45 years to get a Triple Crown, voters looked past Trout’s overall statistical advantage.

The same split of opinion among baseball people remains in place, I think -- the folks in uniform think Cabrera is one of the greatest players of all time, while a lot of front-office types believe Trout is the better player, and not by a small margin.

Brad Miller continues to learn, writes Ryan Divish.

• Without Nelson Cruz, the Rangers are a pitching team now, writes Gerry Fraley.

NL East

Matt Harvey says his knee is fine.

Jose Fernandez was really good, but the rest of the Marlins, not so much, as Andre Fernandez writes.

• The Braves are putting it all together, writes Mark Bowman.

NL Central

• Mike Matheny’s policy doesn’t make sense, writes Bernie Miklasz.

Jonathan Broxton is excited to be back with the Reds.

NL West

Randall Delgado is on a learning curve, as Nick Piecoro writes.

• The Rockies are broken, writes Mark Kiszla.

• A Padres reliever is having a breakout season.

Carl Crawford looks back on his days with the Rays with some fondness, writes Marc Topkin.

Other stuff

• The Twins’ CEO is noncommittal about the future of manager Ron Gardenhire.

• Some Blue Jays put the Latin drug connection into context, as Richard Griffin writes.

• It has not been a good summer for Vanderbilt basketball.

And today will be better than yesterday.

The great white-flag debate 

July, 25, 2013
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Ervin SantanaJim Rogash/Getty ImagesShould the Royals sell Ervin Santana and store more assets, or hope he'll keep them in contention?
Before the trade deadline in 1996, then-Orioles general manager Pat Gillick assessed his team and decided to blow it up. He arranged trades of Bobby Bonilla and David Wells, believing that Baltimore’s organization needed an injection of prospects for its depleted farm system.

When you looked at that through the prism of the standings, it made complete sense: On July 28, 1996, the Orioles were 12 games out of first place.

But Baltimore owner Peter Angelos had a completely different perspective -- as someone who was focused on selling tickets, selling hope. And he thought it was a bad idea to raise the white flag on the season with more than two months to play because of what that said to paying customers.

That the Orioles surged back and advanced all the way to the American League Championship Series didn’t necessarily mean that Angelos was right and Gillick was wrong, because there have been plenty of examples of owners stepping in and killing deals for the same reason only to see their team fall out of the race.

But that example should underscore the reality that Major League Baseball teams aren’t run like Strat-O-Matic teams: They are businesses. Sure, the chances of the Kansas City Royals and the Philadelphia Phillies, who are both eight games out of first place, look really bad, and the same goes for the Seattle Mariners, 11 games out in the AL West.

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10 under-the-radar 'All-Stars' 

July, 8, 2013
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Ervin SantanaJim Rogash/Getty ImagesErvin Santana is proving that he can still be an effective and durable starter.
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The argument this past weekend has been about whether Josh Donaldson should have been part of the American League All-Stars, and whether Jay Bruce -- who might finish the year with 50 doubles, 30 homers and more than 100 RBI -- should’ve been picked for the National League team.

But beyond those guys are a whole bunch of players who were not really considered for the All-Star team -- and that’s OK -- but are playing effectively this year. Ten performers flying under deep cover beneath the radar in 2013, among others:

1. Ervin Santana, Royals
There were some evaluators who believed that Santana’s best seasons were behind him and there was nothing but regression ahead. But not only has Santana pitched effectively, he has soaked up innings and been as steady as a plow horse for Ned Yost. Santana has not failed to pitch at least six innings in each of his 17 starts.

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