While his name and the Toronto Blue Jays have yet to collide in the same sentence, a question was posed to me, as well as my editor Michael Wray and DJF’s Andrew Stoeten on Twitter about Johan Santana.
— Brad Walchuk (@bwalchuk) January 17, 2014
It’s a fair question to ask. Santana is a former two time Cy Young award winner for the Minnesota Twins (2004 & 2006) and finished third in the Cy Young for the New York Mets in 2008. He’s also a 4x All Star and has a Gold Glove to his credit. So why is a guy like him a free agent?
It’s a pretty easy answer to solve. For one, his age. He’s going to be 35 this season. Next come the injuries. Santana was once considered a work horse. From 2004 to 2008, he consistently gave the Twins and Mets 219+ innings, but then the wheels fell off. Santana started missing considerable amounts of time with arm trouble. In 2010, his last strong season, he went 199 IP. He would have made 200+ IP had he not gotten injured five innings into a game against the Atlanta Braves. He pitched well and long enough to get his 11th and final win of the season. Santana would undergo anterior capsule surgery and wouldn’t pitch again until 2012, a season of mixed results. In 2012, Santana had career worst numbers, yet threw the New York Mets first no-hitter in its history. It seemed as if Santana had turned the corner, but then one start after the no hitter, he was lost for the rest of the 2012 and all of 2013 seasons with the same anterior capsule injury.
So here we are — 2014. According to this D.J. Short article written just over a week ago, Santana was yet to throw off the mound. Of course there’s interest, but the Blue Jays don’t appear to be players. Instead, you hear more about the Jays being involved with his less successful, younger, similarly named counterpart, “Johan” Ervin Santana. It may have to do with age, it may have to do with Jays having a strong history in dealing with his agency, Proformance, the same group that represents Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista, pitcher Luis Perez, as well as former Jays Fred Lewis, Juan Rivera, Francisco Cordero, and Yan Gomes. I won’t deny I’m speculating here, but it’s not exactly a stretch either.
Going back to Johan Santana, he has also seen a decline in his stuff. His FB use to touch 95 MPH, but those days are long gone. Before the latest injury, he averaging around 88 MPH according to BrooksBaseball.net. Also, while his CHG has seen a dropoff in vertical movement, his SLD may have suffered the most due to injury as it acts more like a cutter than slider (a slow cutter at that), with decreases in both horizontal and vertical movement. All of this explains his decrease in K/9.
Despite his return in 2012 from the first surgery, as mentioned before, he suffered career worst numbers. He had a losing record for the first time in his career at 6-9 with an ERA approaching 5 (4.85). The ERA is deceiving however as FIP and xFIP have him at 4.09 and 4.02 respectively. What isn’t deceiving is Santana’s HR/FB% of 11.9% as well as his HR/9 of 1.31. While it’s not the highest of his career, it’s up there for him and in Toronto, that may be a concern, especially after missing another full season. BB/9 at 3.00 is also of concern, since it was the highest of his career coming off injury and it may very well be a problem again.
So to answer Brad’s question, it all depends on when and how he throws. Should the Blue Jays be interested? While his SLD and FB have fallen off, his other pitches, if they maintain their effectiveness, should make him an MLB pitcher. A minor league contract may be in order, but again, there seems to be a lot of interest by teams just waiting for Santana to throw the ball off the mound. If his FB touches 88-90 with location and he’s pain free, it’s worth signing him to an MLB incentive laden deal. If it’s 82-87, then maybe a minor league deal is in order with MLB incentives. Santana may not be healthy enough yet, but if he’s close, what would it hurt for Toronto? So in a long-winded answer, yes, I absolutely feel Toronto should be interested in the mound session. If the Jays wanted Josh Johnson back, are still seriously considering using Brandon Morrow without making him prove he’s ready, and bringing “flame throwing” Mark Buehrle in as a stabilizing force, there’s no reason the Jays should not consider Johan Santana anymore than they’re not considering Ricky Romero (and they’re considering Romero). Santana isn’t a thrower. The man is a pitcher and he’s gotten use to doing work with diminished stuff. Why would you be interested Aaron Laffey‘s arm, but not Santana’s? Am I wrong?