Could Blue Jays See Buy-Low Quality in Johan Santana or Roy Halladay?


March 28, 2013; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Roy Halladay (34) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Bright House Networks Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I just finished reading through Richard Griffin’s latest piece at The Star, where he basically rips into the organization and provides his personal blueprint as to what the team needs to do to make this squad into a winner. While he misses on few points (really, Dan Haren?), he does come through with some solid ideas that have some merit to them.

Particularly, this point caught my eye:

"Look for a free-agent pitcher that could have a rebound: Anthopoulos talks about left-hander Scott Kazmir as the type of free-agent rebound that can key a team into contention. Kazmir is available, but his price has gone up. He is a model for what the Jays need."

To close out his point, Griffin cites a small handful of starters that could fit the bill; Josh Johnson, Roy Halladay, Barry Zito, Jon Garland, Johan Santana and Daisuke Matsuzaka. While I want nothing to do with Barry Zito or Daisuke Matsuzaka, and the window seems to be closing on Josh Johnson, there are two names there that are at least intriguing.

There used to be a time that the pairing of Johan Santana and Roy Halladay only occurred in regards to a “best starters in baseball” conversation. To see them side by side in a discussion on reclamation projects is a bit surreal, but here we are. Both pitchers are coming off of lost seasons and as such, carry with them a certain degree of risk each.

Johan Santana is just 34-years-old, yet it seems like ages ago since he was considered an effective arm. After missing all of 2011, Santana made a return to the Mets in 2012 and experienced mixed results. He would make 21 starts on the season and post a solid 8.5 K/9 ratio, but his ERA of 4.85 and his ERA+ of 79 left a lot to be desired. However, his did post a SIERA of 3.86 and a xFIP of 4.02, which would indicate that the end results should have been better. Of course, his grand achievement in 2012 was the first no-hitter in New York Mets history.

However, the risk involved with Santana has nothing to do with his performance on the mound, but rather his ability to get himself there. He missed the entire 2011 season with a torn anterior capsule in his pitching shoulder. He followed that up in 2012 by missing the final month-plus of the season with a back injury. Santana was supposed to be on track for a bounce-back 2013 season, but he re-tore the anterior capsule in his pitching shoulder prior to Spring Training and never appeared in a single contest last season.

The problem there is not so much the injury history, but the fact that the two major injuries have occurred to the same location, indicating an inability to heal properly from it. At the time of his last surgery, Sporting News was reporting that it could be career ending.

Halladay is a bit of a different animal. The 36-year-old workhorse has a reputation as one of the toughest pitchers in baseball, but is coming off of two absolutely horrible seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies that left many wondering if Halladay had hit a cliff. Over the last two seasons, Halladay has made 38 starts, throwing 218.1 innings, and posting a 5.15 ERA in the process. His once heavy sinker was knocked around tremendously in that time, causing his groundball percentage to fall from 50.9% to 44.7% in 2012 to 40.7% in 2013. He also saw his HR/FB rate go in the opposite direction, from 5.1% in 2011 to 12.0% in 2012 to 17.9% in 2013. All and all, not a great combination.

A lot of Halladay’s issues from the last year-plus could be tied to some shoulder issues he experienced. Similar to Josh Johnson, Halladay dealt with bone spurs and a frayed labrum in 2013, and perhaps rushed himself back to the game before he was ready.

That all said, both pitchers are, and will be, a far cry away from the arms they once were. They represent a fair amount of risk for any team signing them, but there will be teams that take the plunge and try to get at least a semblance of what either was.

If the Blue Jays are intending to make such a move with a reclamation project, these are certainly two tantalizing choices. Santana represents the wishful thinker’s prize, but there may just be too much damage there to ever extract out his former greatness. Halladay on the other hand, is a known commodity, that may have caused his own struggles by trying to persevere through the injury. There is still fire and skill there to be exploited, and medical reports will show if he’s healthy enough to tap into it.

If the Blue Jays take a risk and grab onto a guy looking for a rebound, they could do a lot worse than taking a flyer on their former ace. That said, Roy Halladay along will not improve the Jays staff for 2014, so at best, he represents a fallback option with high hopes and lower price tag.

Which “reclamation project” do you think the Blue Jays should look into this winter?