In 2011, the New York Yankees signed Freddy Garcia to a Minor League contract worth $1.5 million. Garcia then made the team out of spring training and ultimately went 12-8 with a 3.68 ERA. Overall, it was a successful experiment.
Heading into 2014, the Yankees once again need help in the starting rotation. Masahiro Tanaka is their primary target, but they could (and should) make another move similar to the one they made in 2011.
The New York Mets have declined a $25 million team option on Johan Santana, officially making the southpaw a free agent. This isn’t surprising considering that last April, Santana had surgery on his left shoulder for the second time in 31 months and missed the entire 2013 season. Still, the two-time Cy Young winner fully expects to be healthy and ready to pitch for a big league club in 2014. The question is which one?
The Yankees should consider signing Santana. Though his shoulder problems are definitely a concern, they’re by no means a death sentence, especially when you take into account the type of pitcher he is. He’s never been a power pitcher, a guy who simply reaches back and blows hitters away. As a result, the injury won’t affect him as much as it would a guy like Justin Verlander, who relies on a plus fastball to get batters out.
Even when Santana dominated with the Minnesota Twins (and briefly with the Mets) his fastball was consistently in the low 90s. Despite this, he was one of the best pitchers in the league because of his deception. He knows how to hide the ball extremely well during his delivery and how to effectively change speeds, mainly utilizing a devastating change-up. He’s also yet another pitcher who proves that pitching is like real estate — location, location, location. Thus, even if shoulder problems have cost him some velocity, he will not have lost his greatest advantage over hitters.
Here’s the beauty of the situation from the Yankees’ perspective: it’s not unrealistic to believe Santana can be an effective Major League pitcher. But because he missed the entire 2011 season, much of 2012 and all of 2013 due to injury, he doesn’t have much leverage in contract negotiations. The Yankees could plausibly sign him to a low base salary with performance-based incentives — much like they did with Garcia in 2011.
It would be low risk, high reward. If it turns out Santana’s shoulder problems have drastically hurt his pitching ability, it wouldn’t cost the Yankees much money as they try to get payroll under $189 million. But if he does return to anything close to ace-like form, he could bolster a starting rotation that desperately needs help, and that could use another lefty.
According to rumors, Santana might return to Minnesota in 2014. By now, the Twins should be used to losing to the Yankees — once more wouldn’t hurt.