The AL Central is quickly becoming one of the toughest divisions in baseball. The defending American League champion Kansas City Royals were the only AL Central team not to make a significant splash during the Winter Meetings, although they did reportedly sign DH Kendrys Morales to a two-year deal to replace Billy Butler.
The Chicago White Sox signed a new closer and acquired a front-line starter. The Detroit Tigers acquired a new left-fielder and swapped out fifth starters in separate transactions. The Cleveland Indians picked up a power-hitting corner outfielder/first baseman. Late Thursday, the Minnesota Twins answered with a free agent signing of their own: starter Ervin Santana.
Santana will join Phil Hughes at the top of the Twins' rotation. Santana spent the 2014 season with the Atlanta Braves. He won 14 games and had a 3.95 ERA in 196 innings. Santana returns to the AL Central, where he pitched for the Royals in 2013. The right-hander began his career with the Los Angeles Angels, pitching for the Angels from 2005-2012.
Santana was up-and-down performance-wise early in his career, but he has been fairly consistent over the past five seasons. His one bad season over the past five came in 2012. Otherwise, in each of those seasons, he has had an ERA under 4.00 and has made at least 31 starts.
According to Ken Rosenthal, Santana's deal will be worth $54 million over four seasons. Santana brings a career 7.2 K/9 rate with him to a Twins' staff that has struggled to miss bats in recent years. He struck-out 8.2 per nine innings last season. Santana has always been very durable and turns 32 tomorrow.
Santana will be re-united with former Angels' teammate Torii Hunter, who signed a one-year free agent contract with the Twins earlier this off-season. The Twins are looking to improve a staff that finished last in the American League in team ERA in 2014. Minnesota starting pitchers had a 5.06 ERA and allowed a .290 BAA. That is despite the fact that Hughes had a 3.52 ERA in 209.2 innings pitched. No other Twins' starter had an ERA under 4.40 last season.