Ervin Santana is suddenly, actually needed

Under ideal circumstances, Ervin Santana would have joined the White Sox with at least some some margin for error emotionally.

Fresh on the scene after four bad-to-awful starts from the rest of the White Sox rotation, his arrival on the 25-man roster — he took the place of Carson Fulmer, who was optioned after his encouraging debut on Monday — takes on heightened importance from everybody who has a vested interest in watching White Sox baseball.

The expectations for Santana haven’t changed, because he’s still a 36-year-old who signed late in the winter. Those signings don’t have much of a success rate by default, but there’s a path to success there, which is why Santana found a situation somebody like James Shields couldn’t. All he needs to do is give the White Sox a decent decline-phase year that he didn’t give the Twins. With Minnesota, he went from this:

  • 2017: 16-8, 3.28 ERA, 4.46 FIP, 211.1 IP, 167 K, 4.8 WAR

To this:

  • 2018: 0-1, 8.03 ERA, 7.94 FIP, 24.2 IP, 16 K, -0.6 WAR

The FIP isn’t reassuring even from his good year, but he has a history of outperforming it, and a legit reason (finger injury) for the drastic drop in velocity and the subsequently awful performance. He’ll get a few starts to understand what his in-season shape looks like these days, and the Sox will evaluate their other options should there be nothing to see.

But it’s not as easy to independently reserve judgment for Santana when onlookers fear that he’s going to be the latest car to hit black ice and join this pile-up:

If Santana’s line fits in with the ones above, he’ll still probably get a couple more turns, health permitting. However, there’s a cumulative stress already well underway that can’t exactly be ignored.

Santana joins a roster that just had to turn to the “burn through a Triple-A call-up” strategy nine games in by using and losing Fulmer on Monday. Moreover, the Sox already swapped out another reliever from an eight-man bullpen, replacing Dylan Covey with Jose Ruiz last Thursday after Rick Renteria found himself thinking Covey was a suitable high-leverage option.

The Sox supposedly sent Covey down to Triple-A to stretch him into starting. The rationale is flimsy, and it’s hard to tell if it’s for an honorable reason or a desperate reason. The former would attempt to preserve Covey’s dignity, emphasizing the thing he can do (throw a few effective innings once in a while) over what he can’t (strike out guys when strikeouts are needed), with everybody understanding that Manny Banuelos already serves the same purpose. The latter puts Covey in position for yet another audition should the Sox find themselves scrambling for bodies to fill out the rotation.

I think the White Sox would love to only resort to Covey when he’s needed to soak up innings during a schedule crunch, like a doubleheader that nullifies an off day that would’ve been greatly appreciated. Based on the first nine games of the season and the other problem areas endemic elsewhere, it’s more likely that the White Sox will shortly find themselves turning to him and hoping he’s finally ready to deliver the adequateness that every other audition has found fleeting.

The path away from worst-case scenarios can start today with Santana, which is the kind of pressure that wasn’t supposed to be put on him right now. That might be a little much, but he’ll have to show something sooner than later, because “later” arrives earlier for 36-year-olds who might be done.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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Has the marketing department considered the 2019 slogan Black Ice?

Josh Nelson

Goes great with the new Goose Island feature: showers.

karkovice squad

Brought to you by

Lurker Laura

Off topic, but did you all see this?

I imagine Jose Abreu has opinions.


MLBTR covered it. And smartly disabled the comments.

Lurker Laura

No kidding.



Josh Nelson

Unfortunate. I’m sure MLB will transfer lobbying money from not having to pay minor leaguers a fair wage to this effort.


This might be a long week.

karkovice squad

Admittedly the Sox have 2 gigantic hurdles in the way–Coop, their available relievers–but they really ought to consider cribbing off the Rays’ homework with unconventional rotation assignments, whether that’s openers, tandem starts, or something else.

karkovice squad

Clevinger’s out for several months with a muscle strain. That should lower the bar for saying which other AL Central starters could crack Cleveland’s rotation.

Also, 1 more reason to complain about what the Sox did this offseason.


True. Had the Sox not traded for Alonso, the Indians might have been forced to trade Kluber.
Thereby giving the Twins a much better shot at winning the division.


This front office is mind numbingly bad.

Greg Nix

Hopefully the Sox cut the bullshit and just call up Dylan Cease whenever Santana or whoever else proves insufficient.


After seeing how the Sox handled Kopech and the development of his third pitch, I expect some struggles for Cease this year.