The Minnesota Twins had plenty of opportunities to trade Ervin Santana over the winter.
With the free agent market lacking in starting pitching, the right-hander was looked upon as a quality alternative by many teams. The fact that Santana was under contract for two more seasons at a total of $28 million also made him attractive.
The Twins could have been easily tempted to trade Santana following a 103-loss season, the worst in franchise history, to add younger players for a potential rebuild. However, the new management team of chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine decided against it.
“We felt it was really important to have that anchor for the rotation,” Falvey said. “You need that pitcher who you can count on to give you a good outing and pitch deep into games almost every time out. We felt we had that Ervin and whatever we might get back in a trade wouldn’t equal the value of what he brings to us.”
The Twins have gotten off to a surprising start — they were in first place in the American League Central going the opener of their three-game home series with the Colorado Rockies that began Tuesday night — and Santana has played a big part.
The 34-year-old is 6-1 with a 1.50 ERA in eight starts, allowing just 23 hits in 54 innings for a minuscule .128 opponents’ batting average. He also has 41 strikeouts and 21 walks.
That continues a trend of strong pitching that goes back to just prior to last year’s All-Star break. In his past 26 starts, dating to last June 25, Santana is 12-5 with a 2.12 ERA.
Somewhat surprising, Santana says that his 2017 success is unrelated to his strong finish of 2016.
“Every season is a new season,” Santana said. “Once the season is over, you go home, rest up and get ready for the next season. What happens one year doesn’t matter the next.”
That sums up the Twins’ thinking as a team after having the worst record in the major leagues last season.
They wiped the slate clean for 2017 despite the only major change to the roster being the addition of free agent catcher Jason Castro on a three-year, $24.5 million contract.
“A lot of bad things happened last year,” Santana said. “All we could do was forget about it and move on. Everyone came to spring training with a new feeling. Last year was behind us and we were ready for better things. Everybody was positive.”
Few things have been better for the Twins than a Santana start. They have gone 7-2 with him and 12-13 without him.
“We seem to have a little more moxie when he is on the mound,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “Just a good feeling, knowing he is starting the game for you.”
Now the Twins need to find a few more starters they can feel that way about from a rotation that includes left-hander Hector Santiago and right-handers Phil Hughes and Jose Berrios if they plan to contend for the long haul.
The Twins, though, can be heartened by their 4.23 ERA. That is down from their 5.08 mark of last season, which was second-worst in the major leagues, barely ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 5.09.
“Our pitching staff has really stabilized,” Twins first baseman Joe Mauer said. “Our pitchers are keeping us in games and giving us a chance to win. It makes a big difference. And when Ervin is out there, you expect him to shut the other team down.”