Magic. Ervin's season was definitely not lacking in it. I wrote at the beginning of the season that Santana needed to reintroduce his sinker and rely more on his off-speed stuff in order to have a successful season. Santana's slider was deadly this season, so it was easy to rely on that for strikeouts. Santana did indeed re-introduce his sinker, and he used it at a greater proportion than he ever has before (21%) at the expense of his 4 seam fastball. He had about a 58% GB% with his sinker. The reintroduction of his sinker allowed his pitch mix to be more unpredictable and to keep the ball on the ground more than he did in 2012. In addition, his slider's effectiveness increased. The combination of his pitch mix and pitch usage tells me that Ervin figured out how to pitch this year, rather than try to throw.
Santana's ERA outperformed his FIP, but that was common among Royals pitchers due to the strong defense. Should Santana stay in KC, I would expect some regression from him due to aging, but not very much. I think the strong defense of KC would continue to aid his ERA in outperforming his peripherals. Santana was worth 3 fWAR this year; Steamer, one of the many projection systems, projects him for 2.7 fWAR in 2014, a slight regression. This number seems fairly solid for what we might expect from Santana in 2014; it could be closer to 2013 levels if he stays in KC. If he leaves KC for another AL team with a poorer defense, I think there will be a bit more regression. If he leaves KC for a NL team, Santana might maintain his production due to being able to face a pitcher.
Santana is a free agent, so what should the Royals do about him? First, the Royals will likely make the qualifying offer to him. That means they will offer him a 1 year contract at an average of the highest 125 paid players in the MLB, which is projected to be about $14 million this offseason. Should he decline that offer, and he very likely will, he is eligible to sign anywhere he wants, but if he signs somewhere other than KC, the Royals will get a first round draft pick in compensation for him. The team who signs him will lose their first round draft pick. Last offseason, Kyle Lohse and Michael Bourn had this situation, and once they declined the qualifying offer, the market for these players was very team-friendly. Santana will find that his market will be team-friendly as well if he declines the qualifying offer.
So, Santana has a bit of an incentive to re-sign with KC. Can they afford him? Probably not. Santana will probably get comparable contracts that Lohse and Ryan Dempster got, but with more years, probably. Something in the neighborhood of 3yrs/$40million or 4yrs/$52million is what I would expect him to get, even with the compensation pick attachment. The addition of yet more TV revenue this offseason could throw a wrench into projecting prices, though. Free agent prices will likely inflate heavily, so something like 4yrs/$60million is not out of the question for Santana, especially after what Lincecum just got. $15million/year is too much for the Royals to afford when they have so many offensive black holes to fill, but that's about how much Santana was worth in 2013. Escalating salaries for players under contract means that despite getting some payroll off the books, the Royals still won't have that much money to play with. I think the Royals will target one of the lower-tier free agent pitcher bargains, which Santana is not. My personal favorite is Dan Haren, but that is a topic for another post.