By the end of his first full season as a starter in 2004, Johan Santana was already one of the best starting pitchers to ever don a Minnesota Twins uniform. A left-handed workhorse with one of the best changeups MLB had ever seen, Santana continued to be nearly unhittable for the majority of a decade.
In 222 starts from 2004 to 2010, Santana threw 1,512.1 innings to the tune of a 2.87 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP and just shy of 1,500 strikeouts. Before being signed by the New York Mets in 2008, Santana led the AL in strikeouts for three consecutive seasons from 2004 to 2006, and also brought home two AL Cy Young awards in the same time frame.
On September 14, 2010, Santana underwent shoulder surgery and missed the entire 2011 season. In 2012, he struggled to get back to midseason form before re-injuring his throwing shoulder and undergoing a second surgery in April of 2013. The former Cy Young then sat out the entire 2013 season, was released by the Mets and still does not have a team to represent for the upcoming 2014 season.
Last week, Santana began throwing bullpen sessions for the first time since his last surgery, and is gaining interest (albeit at a distance) from a number of MLB teams, including the Minnesota Twins. Should Minnesota give Johan a chance?
The Twins have already made vast improvements to their starting pitching this offseason. Fixing the rotation became priority no. 1 following the end of the 2013 season, and the additions of Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes should help tremendously. Kevin Correia will be a solid third or fourth option in the rotation, and Mike Pelfrey will attempt to bounce back from a dismal 2013 season and claim a rotation spot as well.
With that being said, at least one, and possibly two spots in the Minnesota rotation are up for grabs even after the team’s expensive offseason.
In the 2012 season following his first shoulder surgery, Santana struggled to post a 6-9 record and a 4.85 ERA. However, he also posted a K/9 of 8.5, and 43 percent of his two-strike at-bats ended in strikeouts. This shows that Santana’s once-dominant stuff was still alive, but that he failed to capitalize likely due to a lack of control and stamina.
His second surgery was rare and there’s no telling how his arm will fully respond, but with the right organization, Santana still might have a chance to flourish as a middle-tier starting pitcher.
Labeled as damaged goods, Santana will likely cost a potential suitor only a minor league deal prior to the 2014 season. He won’t be fully available until late May, and therefore won’t force his buyer to make an immediate decision on providing him a roster spot.
And let’s not forgot that MLB is a business. Nothing would fill more seats at Target Field than Santana sporting no. 57 in blue and red again, regardless of where the Twins are in the AL standings. The Twins would be foolish not to take a chance and make a serious attempt at snatching up this former superstar.