The Baltimore Orioles agreed to a minor league contract with veteran southpaw Johan Santana on Tuesday. The deal is largely based on incentives, but the 34-year-old Santana can make a minimum of $3 million if he is added to the O’s 40-man roster.
A two-time Cy Young Award winner with the Minnesota Twins, Santana has pitched for the New York Mets since 2008, but missed all of the 2013 season after surgery on his shoulder in April. His best season came in his first Cy Young season, when he earned 20 wins with a 2.61 ERA, a 0.92 WHIP, and 265 Ks. He pitched the first no-hitter in New York Mets history in 2012, which took a total of 134 pitches.This extremely high pitch count could have had a major contribution on the re-aggravation of his shoulder in 2013.
Santana’s role on the Orioles club will depend on his performance in Spring Training. He will definitely have to improve on his fastball velocity, which sat at around 81 mph during an earlier tryout for about seven major league teams. While he will never again possess the devastating mid-90s running fastball that he had as a Twin, he has shown evidence that he still has his famous changeup, which has in the past been heralded as one of the best in the majors.
If Santana can prove healthy enough to pitch on the major league roster, he could serve as a valuable veteran presence in the rotation. After all, if Santana is at top form, he can match up with almost any pitcher in the AL. If the Orioles don’t feel comfortable placing the burden of so many innings pitched on Johan in April and May, he could start out as a long-reliever and pitch his way into the rotation, depending on performance and health of the current members of the rotation.
I think that Santana was an excellent choice by the Orioles’ front office as a low risk/high reward starting pitcher. The move adds depth to a young rotation, and Santana could end up a comeback player of the year candidate. After all, whenever he is healthy, he is one of the top arms in the majors. From 2001 to 2010, his highest ERA was 3.33, and he finished with a record above .500 each season.
Should Johan break out of spring training with a spot in the Baltimore rotation, either Bud Norris or Wei-Yin Chen would be in danger of losing a rotation spot. The rotation currently consists of Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Miguel Gonzalez, Chen, and Norris.