Now that both Masahiro Tanaka and Matt Garza are off the market, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez are widely considered the top two starters in free agency. Some may argue in favor of Bronson Arroyo as well, but given the lack of draft pick compensation and his age relative to Santana and Jimenez, Arroyo figures to have a different market than the pair of early-30s Dominican right-handers.
Santana turned 31 in December and enjoyed an excellent rebound campaign with Royals in 2013 after he was acquired in a salary dump trade with the Angels. Similarly, Jimenez, who turned 30 last week, rebounded from a disastrous 18-month stretch that saw him post an ERA north of 5.00 and caused many fans around the game label him a lost cause.
Jimenez is more of a strikeout pitcher than Santana but also comes with worse control, as reflected in his 9.6 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 rates in 2013. While he was once an extreme ground-ball pitcher, Jimenez turned in a slightly below-league-average mark of 43.9 percent in 2013 (44.5 percent was average). Santana, meanwhile, relied on pristine command but picked up strike three far less often than Jimenez. He averaged nearly three full strikeouts fewer than Jimenez on a per-nine-inning basis (6.9) but walked just 2.2 hitters per nine. His ground-ball rate has trended upward over the past three seasons, culminating in a career-best 46.2 percent in 2013.
However, the pair shares some similarities as well. For one, Santana and Jimenez have displayed durability, averaging 200 and 198 innings per season, respectively, dating back to 2008. And, despite the different ways in which they've prevented runs, they've done so at nearly an identical rate. Dating back to that same 2008 season, Jimenez's 3.90 ERA is just a hair lower than Santana's 3.93 ERA. Both have experienced significant swings in that time, and that inconsistency has played a part in the fact that they remain on the free agent market on Jan. 27.
Also playing a part has been the lengthy Tanaka saga and the fact that each hurler will require forfeiture of a draft pick. Despite strong rebound campaigns for each, neither pitcher has seen his market develop much. That figures to change in the next month, and the debate among pundits as to which pitcher is the better investment for a team in need of pitching will likely produce arguments for both sides. With all that said, let's see what the MLBTR readership has to say about this pair of high-upside but relatively inconsistent pitchers.