MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Ervin Santana's given name was Johan. This was a fine way to be identified for the right-hander raised in the Dominican Republic and working his way up through the minor leagues.
Except there was this other pitcher named Johan Santana who had begun to make a big name for himself with Minnesota.
Baseball card after baseball card would come to him from confused autograph seekers, when Santana was just an unproved prospect with the Angels organization. So he decided to make the change in 2003. Enamored with former NBA star Earvin Johnson and his famous nickname "Magic," Santana switched from Johan to Ervin and forever separated himself from the eventual two-time AL Cy Young Award winner.
Johan Santana is seven seasons removed from that stellar career with the Twins, so the 32-year-old Ervin Santana wasn't signed to a $55 million, four-year contract to somehow replicate that success. The Twins, in dire need of starting pitching improvement for yet another offseason, would simply welcome more of the steady statistics Ervin Santana has posted over his 10-year major league career.
"He's the type of guy that doesn't want to come out of games," general manager Terry Ryan said.
Santana has surpassed 200 innings in half of his seasons in the majors, just missing in 2014 with 196 innings for Atlanta. Over the last five years, Santana averaged 12 wins, 207 innings and 164 strikeouts while making 30 or more starts each season. The Twins pursued him a year ago, too, but he held out until March and signed with the Braves for one season and $14.1 million.
They had some recruiting advantages, which paid off this time. Right fielder Torii Hunter, who recently returned to his original team, spent five years with Santana with the Angels. He put in a good word. So did a certain former Twins pitcher who lives near Santana's winter home in the Dominican Republic, Francisco Liriano.
"I always asked him about this team, and he told me a lot of good things about this team. That's one of the reasons I chose Minnesota," Santana said at his introductory news conference at Target Field on Saturday.
Alexi Casilla was another former Twins player and current winter neighbor of Santana's who helped sell him on Minnesota. The Twins didn't need to be sold, particularly with his durability.
"Work hard. That's my main thing," Santana said. "I always get to the stadium early, work hard and just pitch. I don't try to do too much."
Santana will make $13.5 million over each of the next four seasons. The Twins have a 2019 option at $14 million with a $1 million buyout, and that salary for 2019 would become guaranteed if Santana pitches 400 or more innings combined over the 2017 and 2018 seasons, including 200 or more in 2018, and passes a physical exam. The contract also provides for several award bonuses, including $25,000 for an All-Star selection, $50,000 for a Gold Glove and $100,000 for a Cy Young.
To make room for Santana on the 40-man roster, first baseman/right fielder Chris Parmelee was designated for assignment.
Minnesota gladly made room for Santana in the rotation, too, after ranking next-to-last, last and last in the majors in collective starting pitcher ERA over the last three years.
"It's obviously a huge upgrade," manager Paul Molitor said. "As our interest increased, I got a chance to check out different things about him, his career, his video. Obviously, just tremendous stuff."