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Making room for Ervin Santana

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The biggest free agent signing in franchise history is scheduled to make his Twins debut on July 5.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

When the Twins cut Jordan Schafer loose last week it ostensibly served as a roster-clearing maneuver for the eventual return of Ervin Santana. Santana is scheduled to be activated on July 4, and make his Minnesota Twins debut on Sunday, July 5 in Kansas City. That's just 12 days away.

Minnesota's front office is facing a roster crunch on a number of levels. As far as position players go, adding Miguel Sano and Oswaldo Arcia and Josmil Pinto would make the Major League team better but would make things awkward not necessarily because of who might lose their jobs but because of who would struggle to get playing time. Yet it might be in the starting rotation where the biggest decisions need to be made.

The impending return of Ervin Santana will require the Twins do do something with one of their existing five starters: Phil Hughes, Kyle Gibson, Trevor May, Mike Pelfrey, and Tommy Milone. Ricky Nolasco also needs to be a part of the equation, but his bullpen session on June 14 ended due to discomfort and he's now been fitted for orthotics (something applied externally to control/guide/restrict movement). There's no timetable for his return right now.

You could make an argument for trading any one of those five pitchers, which says something about the 180 that Minnesota's rotation has done since last year. Moving Hughes, Gibson, or May would likely yield the largest return, but they're also the three starters who are most likely to have the most value for the Twins over the next three or four years. As it stands right now, Hughes and Gibson are under team control through 2019; May is under team control through 2020. Suffice it to say that the Twins would have to be very motivated to move any of them.

Pelfrey and Milone, however, fall into their own categories. Pelfrey is a free agent following the 2015 campaign, and has no chance to stick with Minnesota unless the front office decides to just trade away all of its young pitching talent - which won't happen.

That leaves us with Tommy Milone, Minnesota's lone left-handed starter. He's only 28, and he too has multiple years of team control remaining as he won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2018 season. To top it all off he's on a bit of a roll, and through eight starts he now owns a 3.59 ERA in 47.2 innings.

So why is Milone the most likely starter to be moved?

  • He wasn't drafted or developed by the Twins.
  • He wasn't recently signed to a multi-year, multi-million dollar extension.
  • It's hard to imagine the Twins trading Mike Pelfrey quite yet considering his performance and the faith that the organization has repeatedly shown in him over the years.
  • As a left-handed starter with years of team control and a decent track record he's likely to have more trade value than Mike Pelfrey.

I suppose Milone could always go back to Triple-A, but he's too good and too experienced for that treatment. Granted, advanced metrics don't put a lot of faith into Milone's ability to continue to be as effective as he's been (5.06 FIP, 4.70 xFIP, 7.0% swinging strike rate), but like Pelfrey he's drastically reduced the number of balls in play against him that have been categorized as hard-hit. Regardless of the underlying indicators of performance however, the Twins should have little trouble drumming up interest in an effective lefty under team control.

At this point, what the Twins might be able to get in return for Milone (or Pelfrey, since the club will need to eventually open up another spot this year), or what teams might be a target, aren't as important as creating a roster spot for Santana. We won't have to wait long to see how Terry Ryan and company make it happen.