Arming the O’s to Win it All: Sonny Gray or Ervin Santana?

Side by side of Sonny Gray & Ervin Santana.

The schedule has turned to July, and while that means this writer is another year older, it also means it is officially trade season in Major League Baseball. For 14 years, it was almost always a time to anticipate who the Orioles were going to be selling, only to be disappointed by the lack of movement when August rolled around. The exception of course was the 2000 “fire sale” that brought Melvin Mora – but little else – to the Orioles.

Happier times are here with Dan Duquette, and every year since 2012, the Orioles have made a move at the deadline as buyers to try to take a shot at the playoffs and win their first World Series since 1983. While it has meant the Orioles have had to lose valuable prospects, it also has meant they are doing what they think they have to do to win.

With all that said, as they go into the final weekend before the All-Star break, the Orioles find themselves sitting in first place in the AL East, looking to add once again at this deadline to take another run at the division title and that elusive World Series Championship.

Starting pitching is a glaring weakness for the team, as it was expected to be, but I’m not sure it was expected to be this bad. Still, with the bullpen and offense, the team has been able to win 49 games out of 84. Unfortunately, history shows us that that trend simply can’t be sustained as the bullpen will eventually be burned out.

The Orioles have recently been mentioned in rumors with two arms as potential upgrades – the A’s Sonny Gray and the Twins’ Ervin Santana. Let’s look at both to see which of the two the Orioles should avoid and which one they should acquire.

Sonny Gray

Gray, at first sounds like an excellent target for the Orioles. He’s pitched 200 innings or more for two straight seasons, had a FIP of 3.45 and a combined 6.9 fWAR value. Gray is also under team control though the 2019 season.

Why is he on the market? 2016 has definitely been a down season as he’s regressed to a 4.50 FIP, his HR/FB has jumped to over 15% and he’s only averaging 5.6 IP per start.

Could this just be a hiccup? Perhaps, but one of the things I’m always interested in when it comes to the potential future of pitchers is the mechanics of their delivery.

Chris O’Leary (@thepainguy), who is a swing coach for MLB hitters as well as a college coach, has an excellent website on pitching mechanics, specifically the timing of the various pitcher deliveries. He’s been able to accurately predict the injuries of several MLB pitchers such as Mark Prior, Stephen Strasburg, Matt Harvey, and Jose Fernandez, all of which he attributes to poor timing.

Guess who else made his prediction list?


Given the accuracy of this O’Leary’s past analysis and predictions and what we know about pitchers who have had the Inverted-W like Prior, Gray’s long-term outlook doesn’t seem very bright.

Also, because the Orioles would most likely have to part with Dylan Bundy or Hunter Harvey to get him as well as other top prospects, I’m not sure the risk of Gray’s elbow or shoulder blowing up would be worth a deal of multiple pieces that could contribute to the Orioles for years.

Verdict: Avoid


On a side note, while we are mentioning Bundy and Harvey:

Double Yikes.

If the O’s put any stock in O’Leary’s work, they should probably sell high on these two while they still can.


Ervin Santana

Santana was somebody I wanted the Orioles to sign back in the offseason of 2013-2014. I made my case for him then here.

However, since then, Santana tested positive for Stanozolol, a PED, and received an 80 game suspension from MLB in 2015, so he definitely comes with some warts. Former PED users haven’t scared the Orioles though, as they most famously signed Nelson Cruz and were highly rewarded for doing so.

Santana has been pretty consistent throughout his career since 2011, pitching around 6 innings per start, making 30 or more starts a year, pitching at least 200 innings (all when not suspended) and having a FIP around 4.00 and a fWAR of 2.5-3.0.

Those aren’t numbers that will wow anybody, but it’s head and shoulders above what the Orioles are putting out there on the mound now – with the exception of maybe Chris Tillman.

You won’t find Santana on Chris O’Leary’s radar either which is another plus.

Contract-wise, Santana is set to make $13.5 million for 2016-2018 and then has a $14 million vesting option for 2019 based on innings pitched in 2017 and 2018. For the option to vest, Santana would have to pitch 400 IP between the two seasons as well as hit 200 IP in 2018. I’m sure the Orioles would gladly sign up for 400 IP from a starter over the next two seasons.

Considering what mediocre pitchers are making now, Santana’s contract seems pretty reasonable, though the Twins might still have to provide some cash in the deal to satisfy the Orioles.

I also don’t think the Orioles would have to give up their top prospects to get Santana because of his contract, so that leaves names like Chris Lee, Parker Bridwell and David Hess for arms, and for bats, players like Christian Walker, D.J. Stewart and Ryan Mountcastle. Two of those players plus cash for Santana would likely be a reasonable trade.

Santana fits exactly what the Orioles need, likely won’t come at a steep cost in dollars or prospects and is fairly low risk. The Orioles should have also signed him instead of Ubaldo Jimenez back in 2014. They can right that wrong this season.

Verdict: Acquire

Which pitcher should the Orioles trade for?

Agree or Disagree? Let me know in the comments here or on Twitter @JTrea81.

One Cheer about “Arming the O’s to Win it All: Sonny Gray or Ervin Santana?

  1. avatarHOF 19 on said:

    If the Orioles do not have to give up too much I would take Santana. He is probably better than two thirds of the starters the O’s have now. So he should make them at least somewhat better.

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