Johan Santana has spent the bulk of the offseason deflecting questions about his health, with many wondering what kind of shape he might be in after seeing injuries cost him two of the last three seasons. Despite that recent history, there has seemingly been no shortage of rumblings about where he could end up signing once he’s ready to step back onto a mound. Santana was, after all, one of the top pitchers in the game when healthy and still offers some upside despite being just a week shy of his 35th birthday.
Santana was seen at the Baltimore Orioles’ facilities on Monday. MASN’s Roch Kubatko reports that the two sides are close to an agreement on a minor league deal, but nothing has been finalized as of yet.
What’s curious is the role that Santana could potentially serve once he returns to the hill. Still a few months away from being cleared medically, Kubatko notes that there apparently have been some discussions about potentially using Santana in a bullpen role rather than as a starter. Such a decision would presumably be an effort to minimize the stress on his shoulder. Santana does have some limited experience as a reliever, stemming from his first few seasons in the Major Leagues, but has strictly been a starting pitcher since the 2004 season and has seen much more success in that role.
A torn capsule in his left shoulder kept Santana on the shelf for the entire 2011 season. The same injury came about this time a year ago, costing him all of 2013 as well. Questions lingered about whether he’d be able to pitch again, but by all accounts he has been progressing through his rehabilitation according to plan. Santana threw for interested teams last week (seven teams were reportedly in attendance) but scouts say his fastball was topping out at just 81 MPH. It’s unclear if that’s a drop in velocity due to the injuries or whether it’s merely temporary as he continues to rehab.
Baltimore’s been aggressive in recent weeks after a relatively quiet offseason. While bringing in Santana on a minor league deal pales in comparison to their signing of Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz, it could ultimately prove to be just as impactful if he’s able to return healthy as even a fraction of the pitcher that he once was.