After negotiating for much of the last few days, the Baltimore Orioles and Johan Santana have agreed to a one year, $3 million minor-league deal. The move is a great one for both sides, and has the potential to provide the Orioles with a game-changing asset midway through the 2014 season.
While on a minor league deal, there is no guarantee that Santana will even become a starter in the big leagues in 2014. It is clear that the Orioles want the lefty to force their hand. Currently, the team has a core group of five dependable starters in Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris, not to mention Zach Britton, Suk-Min Yoon and Kevin Gausman all knocking on the door.
Realistically though, the last three on this list are all variables when it comes to effectiveness, and there is no hiding that injuries to MLB starters tend to come in droves throughout the 162-game schedule.
When looking at what Santana would have to offer to the rotation, one can only draw on what he has done in the past and forecast at least a large majority of those positives coming back in 2014. The last time that Santana was consistently on the mound was back in 2012, when he compiled a 6-4 record with a 2.75 ERA in 98 innings pitched before completely falling off the rails in his final five starts because of injuries.
Of course, this poor stretch came right before a second surgery to the capsule in his left shoulder in three years, and left many wondering if the former Cy Young Award winner would simply retire.
Now Santana is again on the road back to the big leagues, although recent reports have stated that his fastball velocity has dropped from 88-90 in 2012 to 81-83 in recent workouts. Of course, it must be noted that at 34-years old and coming off two nearly consecutive injuries, it is unlikely that the lefty ever hits 91 mph on a radar gun again. However, he could be effective at 86-88 mph. With most people estimating that he won’t be fully recovered and ready to pitch on a mound in Baltimore until June, achieving this velocity is certainly a plausible feat with continued rehabilitation.
The reason that Santana has the chance to be effective at such a low velocity is that he still possesses one of the best changeups in baseball history. Even at 74-77 mph, this is a pitch that can make his fastball look like it is coming in at 95 mph, and when combined with an above-average slider, it gives Santana an arsenal of pitches that can make up for lost velocity.
Furthermore, the lefty has consistently had great control and has sat between 1.67-3.0 BB/9. Because of this, overpowering batters will not be a key goal, or even necessary for him to be an above-average starter.
A great asset for Santana is that few are expecting him to be an effective pitcher in 2014, and the Orioles aren’t even relying on it completely. But given his past success, ability to locate and change speeds on hitters, it is hard to doubt a healthy Santana coming up in June, starting 25 games and posting an ERA in between 3-4.
This would not only be an immense upgrade from whoever is in No. 5 spot, but would give the Orioles one of the most complete starting rotations in the major leagues and would vault them into the fight for a playoff spot in the uber-competitive AL East.