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Could Ervin Santana Be Falling Into Orioles' Lap?

January 27, 2014

Regular readers of this space may think I have a man crush on free-agent starting pitcher A.J. Burnett. And, given that the Orioles' most pressing need is 1-2 starting quality arms at the top of the rotation, who could allow Chris Tillman to slot in as a fabulous No. 3, the appeal of an arm such as Burnett's is pretty obvious.

As far back as the winter meetings, I have thought of Burnett's situation with the Pirates -- saying he'd either pitch for them or retire -- as sort of a dance of deception. It seemed he could have a last-minute change of heart and opt out of Pittsburgh by saying, "You know, my wife wanted me to pitch closer to Monkton, Md.," where the Burnetts reside.

I still feel there is a decent chance that could happen, but a better alternative may be about to fall into the Orioles' clutches. Ervin Santana, a former Angels and Royals hurler, was looking for a contract north of $85 million and at a length of six years, which Orioles owner Peter Angelos probably wouldn't give himself.

MLB: Ervin Santana

But a funny thing has happened on the way to the beginning of spring training 2014 -- it is now late January, and the expected breaking up of the logjam of pitchers after Masahiro Tanaka's signing with the Yankees hasn't totally happened yet. Yes, Matt Garza officially has a four-year deal with the Brewers, reportedly getting $12.5 million per year with $2 million annually deferred without interest. 

Now, the big three left out in the cold are Ubaldo Jimenez (draft-pick compensation); Bronson Arroyo (no draft-pick compensation); and Santana, who is tied to draft-pick compensation. There are two other worthwhile candidates. One is Burnett, to whom the Pirates declined to extend a $14.1 million qualifying offer, so he has no draft-pick compensation tied to him. Paul Maholm is also out there, and because the Braves never made a qualifying offer, he also comes with no draft-pick compensation.

The word is that as many as eight teams, including the Orioles, are interested in Santana, a 6-foot-2, talented right-hander. The other suspects are the Angels and Royals, Santana's former teams, as well as the Rockies; Yankees; Dodgers; Mariners; and Diamondbacks, who were in late on Tanaka.

The 31-year-old Santana has a career mark of 105-90 with an ERA of 4.19. Twice during the last five seasons, his ERA has been more than 5.00. But he had an at-times-brilliant 2013 campaign in Kansas City, where he pitched to a 3.24 ERA.

True, if he were an Oriole, he'd make nearly half his starts at Camden Yards. And true enough, he'd also command that aforementioned loss of a draft pick. But with so many foreign players now in the offseason mix each year, the Orioles could easily make up for the loss of this year's No. 17 pick by signing a Cuban or Japanese player -- someone who is more ready for the big leagues anyway -- next winter.

Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette seems to have his eye on the big picture, and that calls for a disciplined approach to building from within. But there is also a practical side to the 2014-2015 window the club has to seriously contend -- Duquette cannot have a good read on whether he'll be able to extend the contracts of catcher Matt Wieters and first baseman Chris Davis. For that matter, maybe agent Scott Boras will take both of his talented Birds off the reservation.

The time is ripe right now to strike a serious acquisition that will both make the team better and quell the restless Baltimore fan base.

Something has to give shortly. Santana is one of the best available pitchers on the market, and he could fall in the Orioles' laps at a length and dollar figure that may be too good a deal for them to pass up.