Despite still being in the recovery process from his second shoulder surgery in 31 months, left-handed starter and former ace Johan Santana is drawing some interest on the free-agent market.
The Texas Rangers should be carefully monitoring his situation and availability over the next few weeks. Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News reported Monday that Santana is essentially a midseason option for the Rangers and other clubs who have expressed interest—notably the Minnesota Twins, who are trying to reinvent their rotation.
Santana's 2014 option with the New York Mets was bought out at the end of last season. He won't be ready to go until the summer, but is available and should be at a fairly low price considering his situation.
If the Rangers are really searching for a bargain, Santana could be an answer. The two-time American League Cy Young winner is just 34 and it's a good bet he still has something left in the tank.
Santana has been one of baseball's best changeup artists over the last decade. When healthy, his stuff is absolutely filthy. He'll pair his circle changeup, which might have been the best pitch in baseball as recently as 2007, with a sharply tailing fastball in the low 90s.
He also throws a high-80s cutter with a late bite as well as a plus slider that is lethal to hitters on both sides of the plate.
Yes, there is a reason this guy won two Cy Young Awards with the Twins in 2004 and 2006. His repertoire may not be quite as breathtaking as it used to be, but it still figures to be well above average when he returns to the mound.
Over his career, Santana's two major hallmarks have been his uncanny control as a strikeout pitcher and his effectiveness in throwing to both sides of the plate.
Since 2004, Santana has pitched four seasons of at least 225 innings while walking under 65 batters. He also fanned 206 or more hitters in each of those four campaigns. Over the last eight seasons, his average strikeout-to-walk ratio is an astounding 3.98. That average includes his disappointing 2012 season.
Command has never been an issue for Santana, even after he returned from his first major shoulder surgery in 2013. When he's healthy, expect to see control closer to his 2006-08 numbers.
The Venezuela native has actually been more effective against right-handed batters during his major league tenure. Right-handed hitters have a slash line of .225/.281/.364 while lefties can only claim a .240/.293/.384 line.
This is a testament to Santana's pure stuff. His exceptional movement to both sides of the plate keeps everyone off-balance.
With the exception of 2012, Santana hadn't finished a season with an ERA higher than 3.33 in the last nine years—a majority of which was spent pitching in the AL.
It also doesn't hurt that he seems to have been a very likable teammate wherever he's gone.
Obviously, the red flag with Santana is his injury record. In 2009, he was shut down in August to repair bone chips in his left shoulder. He pitched well until September of 2010, when he tore the anterior capsule in the same shoulder.
After missing the entire 2011 season, Santana got the Mets' Opening Day 2012 start against the Atlanta Braves, punching out five batters in five scoreless innings.
On June 1, 2012, Santana displayed his resiliency to the world by throwing a no-hitter against the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. After that memorable start, he trudged through the rest of the season and tore his anterior capsule for the second time in April of 2013.
Santana hasn't pitched since.
This is why he might be had for a bargain price.
I haven't seen any reported figures, but would expect that Santana isn't due for anything more than a one-year deal with a possible option for a second. The average annual value shouldn't be too much for any club.
Whichever team signs him will be taking a gamble, but rest assured, if he is just 70 percent of what he was in 2008, that team will be getting a pretty good pitcher for the second half of 2014.
From the Rangers' stance, Santana could slot in as a No. 5 very nicely when he returns. The only thing that might not be attractive to the Rangers—in addition to his recent injuries—is having another lefty starter in the rotation.
Santana would be the rotation's fourth lefty when he and Derek Holland likely return around the same time.
But, again, if the price is right, why not sign the guy? The potential rewards should far outweigh the risk. This should be an opportunity that general manager Jon Daniels pounces on.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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