Johan Santana had only started 21 games in the big leagues over the last three seasons, due to two shoulder surgeries and a back issue. The Baltimore Orioles signed the left-hander to a minor league contract this spring, and he was on track to join the team soon as he worked his way back to full strength. But Santana’s comeback bid was derailed this week, as he suffered a torn left Achilles’ tendon while pitching in an extended spring training game. Santana was hit by a line drive, and then stumbled while retrieving the ball, and he will miss the rest of the season.
The 35-year old Santana’s career may be over now, unless he chooses to rehab from another major injury and make another comeback attempt. But I think that’s very unlikely and got to thinking, even if his career is not technically over at this point, is Santana a Hall of Famer?
The Minnesota Twins landed Santana via the Rule 5 draft in 1999, and for a handful of years he was one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. From 2004-2007, he went 70-32 with a 2.89 ERA over 134 starts (at least 33 each season), while leading the American League in strikeouts (2004-2006) three times and ERA twice (2004, 2006) over that span. Santana also took home the American League Cy Young Award in 2004 and 2006.
Santana was traded to the New York Mets prior to the 2008 season and he did not miss a beat, going 16-7 while leading the National-League in ERA (2.53) and innings pitched (234.1). He was a National League All-Star in 2009, but he only made 25 starts that season (13-9 with a 3.13 ERA) after undergoing surgery to remove bone chips from his left elbow that August.
Santana’s first shoulder surgery came late in the 2010 season, and he missed the entire following season. He returned to action in 2012, and pitched the first no-hitter in Mets’ history in June, before posting an 8.27 ERA over his final 10 starts and being shut down with a lower back issue in August.
Santana ranks in the top-10 among active pitchers in ERA (3.20; fourth), strikeouts (1,988; fifth), wins (139; 10th) and shutouts (10; fifth), but a big part of a Hall of Fame resume is longevity and I don’t think he was great for long enough. Two Cy Young Awards and a Gold Glove (2007) will help when it comes time for voters to weigh in, and Twins’ fans certainly have fond memories of Santana in his prime, but he does not quite belong in Cooperstown barring a major turn of events that allows him to continue to pitch.