The Friend Zone, we've all been there. That uncomfortable place where you really like someone but they don't like you back, not in the same way anyway. But they like you enough to keep you around as a fallback plan in case they never get around to finding someone better.
The Friend Zone is exactly where the Angels seem content to keep Ervin Santana. In this case, the Friend Zone has taken on the form of the Angels rotation. It is pretty clear that the Angels aren't real willing to commit to Ervin, but they aren't ready to break the news to him either that they don't like like him. It is hard to blame them. Santana has been mostly miserable this season. He's got the worst ERA of his career and the lowest K/9 rate as well. Just to cap it off, he is carrying off a -0.7 fWAR this season. That's not dating material at all. For most teams, that's not friendship material either.
Not to the Angels though. They just keep stringing Ervin along.
Sure, Ervin, just fix that arm slot and we'll totally hook up.
Yeah, Ervin, you're looking much better out there, you're really cutting that walk rate down. We could totally be into that... if you keep it up.
Actually, you know what, Ervin? This just isn't going to work. You're getting better, which is great, but it still isn't good enough. Not right now anyway. Maybe in a few weeks if things change, we can talk about us again. I- I just can't get past all the homers.
That's the thing with the Friend Zone, it messes with people. In this case it messes with all the parties involved. For Santana, he doesn't know what he has to do to make sure his rotation spot is safe what with the weird outs limits the Angels imposed on him at various points and Garrett Richards looming in the minors and Jerome Williams looking over his shoulder from the bullpen. For the Angels, they are hurting their own odds at winning games by keeping Santana in the rotation in large part because they don't know what to do with him if they were to pull the plug. If the reject him totally, there is no real way to get him back into the Friend Zone if the need arises down the line. But at the same time, Santana has allowed five homers in his three starts since he got "fixed" in a bullpen session a few weeks ago (and it would've been six if Mike Trout wasn't half-man, half-amazing).
Even the most skilled of cockteases can't keep a guy on the hook forever. There has to be a breaking point for the Angels and Santana. If he goes down in flames tonight, will that finally convince them to cut bait? What if he dominates in a complete game shutout? Will that finally get them to say unequivocally that his rotation spot is safe for the rest of 2012? Or maybe they somehow think the Friend Zone is good for him, motivating him to fight through whatever mental, mechanical or physical issues that have led to his collapse?
One way or another something has to give because the Friend Zone can only be inhabited for so long before someone gets hurt.
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