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Twins, Red Sox, and free agent pitchers

On Thursday, the Twins signed Ervin Santana and the Red Sox inked Justin Masterson. Frankly, it seemed a little backwards.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

You'd be forgiven if you happened to miss these two mid-level moves on Thursday given the flurry of other activity, but Ervin Santana now plays for the Twins and will make at least $54 million over the next four seasons while Justin Masterson will return to Boston and wind up earning $9.5 million with a shot at $12 million if he tosses 205 innings. Neither is as noteworthy as Jon Lester, Matt Latos, or the 97 players who now wear Dodgers blue, but the two moves jump as out because of how the Twins played it: strangely.

The Red Sox went into the offseason wanting to do a lot of different things and they kicked that off by signing Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, and dealing Yoenis Cespedes. They added Rick Porcello in the Cespedes deal, and picked up Wade Miley for Rubby de la Rosa, Allen Webster, et al. The Sox wanted to shake up the lineup and find some pitching, and on the pitching side they prioritized young, solid major league arms.

This isn't to say that Ervin Santana would be a good fit for the Red Sox, but the Red Sox are the kind of team that might make sense. They're going to contend and have plenty of payroll space. Santana's $54 million guarantee is heavier than his likely production, but if you're going to pay more for Santana, you should be doing so because you're buying his high degree of certainty as a league average starter. That's something Boston could have benefited from as they built their rotation.

It's not a perfect match and I wouldn't have advocated for it, but the Red Sox are the kind of team that should have signed Santana, but he wound up on the Twins. Santana signing with the Twins is odd for a number of reasons, and doesn't really make a whole lot of sense given who the Red Sox wound up signing.

Turn this around and look at it from the Twins perspective. It's possible that they could contend in 2015, but with the other AL Central teams loading up, it's hard to imagine they're going to be serious players until Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano arrive at Target Field. In other words, there is virtually no on field reason to acquire Ervin Santana or Justin Masterson for 2015.

Neither makes them a contender unless they plan to also sign or trade for two or three other All-Star caliber players. However, Masterson is a high risk pitcher coming off a bad year filled with some injury issues. For that reason he's cheaper than his healthy production suggests he should be and that means that the team who signs him might wind up with a 3-4 win pitcher who they paid like a 1-1.5 win pitcher. That's either a bargain that will pay off by pushing you up the standings or one that you can use to flip to another club in July like the Cubs have done for the last couple seasons.

Masterson is a bet on his recovery, at which point he becomes extremely valuable to a contender and a non-contender. Santana isn't a player you could flip because teams won't want to add his 2016-2018 liabilities even with a good 2015.

The Twins should have signed Masterson instead of Santana and it's confusing why they didn't. First, they did have legitimate interest but simply didn't get their offer together in time to beat the Red Sox to the punch. So it's not like we can say they didn't think he could pitch and simply passed. Second, the Twins are in a position to spend 2015 payroll on players who will either be good long term investments (Santana isn't) or good short term trade chips (Santana isn't). Masterson is that trade chip, and if you're trying to win the lottery and wind up in the postseason, the two players are basically even by the projections.

More importantly, perhaps, is that Ervin Santanas aren't hard to find. If this was the Twins signing Jon Lester a year or two early, you wouldn't really bat an eye. Sure they'll be wasting money for a year or two, but they might reasonably think it will be hard to sign an ace when their time comes. But finding two win starters for $54 million is a pretty easy thing to do. There are eight to twelve pitchers on the market this year who look like average or better arms and plenty more out there to be picked up via trade.

If the Twins said they wanted Santana for their playoff years, they'd essentially be wasting $13 million this year and absorbing all the risk for the right to have him for 2016 and beyond with no real value in locking him up early unless they think he's going to find the fountain of youth.

It's puzzling that a team in Minnesota's position would be exploring Masterson and Santana and chose Santana. Maybe he's the better pitcher, but it's close, and he's not certainly the better investment for a non-contender at this point. The Sox were wise, in my opinion, to go with Masterson, but they could at least justify paying a little too much for someone like Santana given their current situation. The Twins? Not so much.

The Twins nailed the Phil Hughes deal last winter but fell on their face with Ricky Nolasco. This feels a lot more like the latter than the former. Could Santana pitch well this year? Of course. Is he likely to pitch well by the time the Twins are real contenders? Is he a good trade chip? So what's the point?


Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

Neil Weinberg is the Associate Managing Editor at Beyond The Box Score, the Site Educator at FanGraphs, and writes enthusiastically at New English D.