La Velle E. Neal III has covered baseball for the Star Tribune since 1998 (the post-Knoblauch era). Born and raised in Chicago, he grew up following the White Sox and hating the Cubs. He attended both the University of Illinois and Illinois-Chicago and began his baseball writing career at the Kansas City Star. He can be heard occasionally on KFAN radio, lending his great baseball mind to Paul Allen and other hosts. Mark Rosen borrows him occasionally for WCCO-TV.

Twins land pitcher Ervin Santana

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: December 11, 2014 - 1:55 PM

For the second straight year, the Twins make a move to bolster their rotation.

The Twins have agreed to a contract with righthander Ervin Santana on a four-year, $54 million contract, according to a source with knowledge of negotiations. The deal reportedly includes a fifth-year option based innings pitched. The deal is pending a physical, so Santana will likely be presented in his Twins colors early next week.

The fifth year option is for $14 million. There is a $1 million buyout.

One year after signing Ricky Nolasco to a club-record four-year, $49 million deal, the Twins break that deal with Santana, who is 119-100 in his career.

The deal was hammered out Wednesday night and Thursday morning at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, home of the winter meetings.

The Twins were interested in Santana last offseason. Santana rejected a one-year qualifying offer from Kansas City for $14.1 million and elected to enter free agency. The draft pick compensation scared teams off and he ended up signing with the Braves for - $14.1 million - in an attempt to have a good year and cash in after 2014.

He went 14-10 with a 3.95 ERA for the Braves - rejected another qualifying offer - and had several teams interested in him this offseason. His deal with the Twins averages out to $13.5 million a season. Considering that Brandon McCarthy got $12 million a year from the Dodgers and Francisco Liriano got $13 million a year from Pittsburgh, $13.5 million for Santana looks like a fair deal - especially since he's been much more durable than McCarthy and Liriano.

The only concern is the length of the deal. He turns 32 on Friday.

The Twins will surrender their second round pick  - currently No. 44 overall - for signing Santana. They do have a a pick - No. 71 overall - in the competitive balance round after the second round, so it's not that big of a hit.

The Twins' rotation now looks like this:

RHP Phil Hughes

RHP Ricky Nolasco

RHP Ervin Santana

RHP Kyle Gibson

RHP Trevor May/Mike Pelfrey/Alex Meyer or LHP Tommy Milone.

If the Twins can get Nolasco to be more functional in 2015 - the first big task for new pitching coach Neil Allen - this rotation will be a bump better. And there's less pressure on May and Meyer to develop.

Ervin Santana update

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: December 11, 2014 - 12:26 PM

The Twins continue to work on a deal with free agent righthander Ervin Santana, according to a person with knowledge of negotiations.

It's the best chance the Twins have to leave the winter meetings with something. Meanwhile, all heck broke loose at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in the wee hours of the morning as Matt Kemp was shipped to the Padres and the Red Sox dealt for Rick Porcello.

Seriously, Padres officials spilled out of the elevators at 3 a.m. PST and started talking about the deal. I wasn't there, I heard about it this morning. I sleep for four hours and miss two interesting trades.

Two Twins officials have shot down reports that they have offered Santana a four-year, $50 million contact. That makes sense. If Brandon McCarthy is getting $12M a year and Francisco Liriano gets $13M a year, then Santana has every right to ask for $14-15 million (my guess) because he at least knows what it's like to pitch 200 innings in a season a few times,

Hear Santana is a good guy with a dry sense of humor. His nickname is "Magic", ha.

One scout I talked to is concerned that Santana has thrown so many sliders in his career that it's bound to catch up with him. Interesting.

Stay tuned. There is a report the Yankees might make a run at Santana,

Twins select another Braves pitcher in the Rule 5 draft

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: December 11, 2014 - 11:33 AM

The Twins have selected righthander J.R. Graham in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft.

Graham once was the Braves top pitching prospect but had shoulder problems in 2013 that has stunted his growth. He still has a good fastball and could stick in the bullpen.

Graham, 24, was 1-5 with a 5.55 ERA at Class AA Mississippi last season.

This is the third time the Twins have selected a Braves pitcher in the Rule 5 in recent years, following Scott Diamond and Sean Gilmartin.

Gilmartin, by the way, was selected by the Mets later in the first round of the Rule 5 draft. 

The Twins selected RHP Greg Peavey in the minor league phase of the draft. 

Winter meetings Day 3: Ervin Santana update

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: December 10, 2014 - 11:10 PM

The love/hate relationship with twitter was at its finest on Wednesday when one national reporter tweeted that the Twins were "getting" Ervin Santana. About the same time, Twin Cities media were summoned to General Manager Terry Ryan's suite earlier than normal.

Ryan confirmed nothing. When told of the tweet, he said. ``It's that right? That's good to know.''

The tweet was later removed and replaced with one that had the Twins "pushing hard,'' for the righthander who was 14-10 with a 3.95 ERA last season. Premature tweet.

Ryan wouldn't even confirm he's interested in Santana -  to us. Ryan later went on a Twins Cities radio station that spent zero dollars to cover the meetings and said: ``I won't deny it. We're talking to him."

The Twins headed into Wednesday night expecting to have another meeting with Santana's camp that night or some time Thursday. There was a report that the Twins have offered a contract but someone has shot that down. The side could have talked parameters of a deal, with the Twins intending to make an offer soon.

Ryan seems serious about upgrading baseball's worst rotation last season.

``We've got to win some baseball games here,'' he said. ``To do that, we just can't keep going to the well. We have really struggled on that mound.''

They have starters they can give the ball to. This is about raising the bar and finding a pitcher they can count on. Ryan defined what that meant..

``Health is probably first and foremost,'' he said. ``You are looking for consistency out of the rotation. You have to have health. You have to take the post. It's about quality not just quantity.

``It's savinig your bullpen. Those rotation guys that your really look forward to see pitch. Throw it over. They also give your bullpen a break most of the time.''

That sounds like Santana, who turns 32 on Friday. He has thrown at least 200 innings in a season five times and reached 192 in another.

Santana has also met with the Giants, and there could be other interested parties. He's believed to be seeking a five-year deal and could ask for the $13 million a year the Pirates are giving Francisco Liriano - or more.

The Twins also have showed interest in righthander Edinson Volquez and lefthander Brett Anderson.

Ryan said he's also exploring trades. They didn't appear to be in on Wade Miley, who was just traded to Boston. Will check on that.

We can't forget that the Rule 5 draft is set for tomorrow at 11 am CST. The Twins have the fifth overall pick and planned to meet Wednesday night to discuss players they might draft. Outfielder Delino DeShields has been mentioned as a potential high pick. Righthander Edgar De La Rosa is an interesting candidate because his fastball touches 100 miles an hour. JR Graham, a righthander from the Braves system, is another possibility. But he would follow Scott Diamond and Sean Gilmartin as pitchers the Twins have selected from Atlanta in the Rule 5 draft.

And the Twins could lose Gilmartin....

Winter meetings Day 3: Thoughts on Santana, other notes

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: December 10, 2014 - 11:23 AM
 
Heard last night (O.K., early this morning) that the Twins have been in contact with Jay Alou, agent for righthander Ervin Santana, this week at the winter meetings. If they are serious about upgrading their rotation, then Santana makes lots of sense. 
 
Santana was 14-10 with a 3.95 ERA with Atlanta last season, is 119-100 in his career and has pitched at least 192 innings in four of the last five seasons. The Twins made a run at Santana last offseason, but Santana signed a one-year deal with the Braves with the intention of having a good season then re-entering the market this offseason for a nice payday.
 
Any team that signs Santana would surrender a draft pick. The Twins would lose a second round pick since they had one of the worst records in baseball last season. Twins GM Terry Ryan said Monday that losing a pick was fine with him if the deal made sense.
 
There's the rub.
 
Santana, one report this morning revealed, would like a five-year contract. He can argue that he's better than Francisco Liriano, who has agreed to a three-year, $39 million deal to remain with Pittsburgh. So what does that mean, five years and $15 million per?
 
Are the Twins willing to do that?
 
The chatter in the lobby late last night suggested that San Francisco made the most sense for Santana, a nice fallback option after losing out on Jon Lester. A report out of the Chicago this morning suggested the Cubs had enough money left over after making it rain on Lester to make a run at Santana.
 
The Twins might have a better shot at someone like righthander Edinson Volquez, who they have had discussions about.
 
Volquez would not command as much as Santana, and there's no draft pick compensation required.
 
Stay tuned, because Santana and Volquez might be their best two options on the free agent market. They are interested in lefthander Brett Anderson, but Twins officials have expressed concerns about his durability to me.
 
My prediction is that the Twins add a lower level free agent. Not just on history, but the Twins know that there could be several good free agent pitchers on the market next offseason, By then, a handful of their top prospects will have debuted by then - provided they stay healthy this time - and that might be the right time to get a quality starter to spearhead a revival.
 
The media room should be buzzing today as word of the Lester deal swept the lobby last night. One report has Lester getting a $20 million signing bonus. Wow.
 
Jason Stark is reporting that the bonus is $30 million Wow.
 
And former Twin Pat Neshek is headed to Houston. The Twins put in a call early in the process but it doesn't sound like anything got serious.

Twins are in on Ervin Santana

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: December 10, 2014 - 1:24 AM

Yes, the Twins are in on Ervin Santana.

The Twins have been in contact this week with Santana's agent and apparently are prepared to give up a second round pick as compensation if they can work out a deal.

Santana is expected to attract plenty of interest. He was 14-10 with a 3.95 ERA last season with the Braves and has a track record of being durable. He would definitely upgrade the Twins' rotation.

Other stuff

A Twins-Mets trade involving Dillon Gee doesn't appear likely.

A Twins-Angels trade for Eduardo Escobar doesn't appear likely either.

I'll check in later this morning.

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