With starting pitching always a premium, teams will always look for a way to add depth to their staffs. However, pitching is always so costly that it can keep teams from accumulating the depth they need. Small market teams such as the Rays are always looking for a way to cash in on cheap pitching. Could Johan Santana be one of these cheap options for the Rays?
Santana was signed out of Venezuela by the Houston Astros all the way back in 1995. He joined the Minnesota Twins in 2000 as a Rule 5 draft pick, making his MLB debut against the Devil Rays, and in 2002 he finally broke out. From 2002-2010, Santana established himself as one of the most dominant pitchers in the big league. Over these years, he won 163 games to go with a 2.90 ERA, a 9.0 K/9 and a 2.3 BB/9. The New York Mets acquired Santana prior to the 2008 season hoping to have their frontline starter for years to come. After another monster season in 2008, however, injuries hit Santana hard.
Santana’s first major injury occurred in 2009, when he was shut down in late August because of bone chips in his shoulder. In 2010, Santana threw 199 innings, posting a 2.98 ERA, but he was shut down late one again. This time, the ramifications were more severe: a torn anterior capsule in Santana’s shoulder forced him to miss all of the 2011 season. Santana did look good when he retuned in 2012, posting a 2.38 ERA threw his first 11 starts, but he fell apart after he threw the first no-hitter in Mets history on June 1st, seeing his ERA jump to 8.27 in his next 10 starts. It was clear that Santana’s body was wearing down, and he was forced to spend time on the DL due to ankle and back injuries before the year was over. The Mets hoped he could replicate his promising start to 2012 the following season, but once again, Santana missed the entire year because of another torn anterior capsule.
After all the injuries, Johan Santana is definitely not the pitcher he used to be. That being said, he did show promise in his first 11 starts in 2012, despite averaging just 89 MPH on his fastball according to Brooks Baseball, the first time in his career he averaged under 90 MPH. Despite the decreased velocity, Santana still managed to post a K/9 rate of 8.5 thanks to his nasty slider and changeup. Add in solid command (2.5 BB/9 for his career), and Santana could still be effective even while pitching at lower velocities. Even if Santana could still succeed from a pure stuff standpoint as a starter, that might not be the best spot for him moving forward because of the injury risk he has in that role. The recent interest in Santana all but guarantees that he will be given another chance to start. But given his issues staying healthy, a day arises where he will have to make a change, and Santana could see this change happen next year.
Given the Rays’ already loaded rotation, Santana would probably not be a starter for the Rays unless injuries were to occur first. They would have to pitch a relief role to him, and that would put them at a major disadvantage when trying to sign him. That being said, the Rays could sweeten the offer to Santana by giving him a chance to compete for a closer spot out of spring training. With his stuff, a late-inning role could be a real possibility, and at the very least he could be an effective long relief type with the possiblity to start at least a handful of games if he proves himself healthy. If Santana does not have his heart set on starting games, coming to the Rays could really make sense.
Even though the Rays do not have the starting spot to offer Santana while other teams do, they do have plenty of other ways to motivate Santana to sign. Players towards the end of their career are always looking to join a contender, and the Rays will certainly contend in 2014. In addition, the Rays have a reputation for a fun-loving clubhouse, as well as a likeable manager in Joe Maddon that could help pull Santana to the Rays. All of these factors could convince Santana to spurn a potential rotation spot elsewhere–especially in light of his injuries–and join the Rays’ bullpen. The Rays can’t be perceived as front-runners for Johan Santana since they cannot off him a starting rotation spot, but hopefully the ability to contend and the draw of a great clubhouse and manager will be enough to draw Santana to the Rays.