Four time All Star and two time Cy Young Award winner, Johan Santana, is making a comeback. From 2004 to 2010 he was arguably the best pitcher in baseball. He was second only to Roy Halladay in WAR in that time span, and Halladay only beat him out by 0.1. For those 7 seasons Santana looked like he was on the fast track to Cooperstown. Since then injuries have derailed his career. When he’s taking the mound he’s been effective, but it’s been a matter of taking the mound.
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This isn’t Santana’s first attempt at a comeback. After a shoulder injury ended his 2012 and 2013 seasons, he looked like he was done. Then the Orioles gave him a chance to make a comeback, but in June while still in extended Spring Training he tore his Achilles ending his comeback. Now seven months removed from the injury Santana was healthy enough to take the mound in the Venezuelan Winter League last night where he retired all six batters he faced. While the competition isn’t exactly what he’ll see in the majors, according to a tweet from Jon Heyman, he looked pretty good.
So the question is could the Padres take a chance on him? Right now the only team that has been publicly linked to Santana has been the Yankees, but there’s almost definitely a few other teams who are keeping tabs on him. The Padres have shown a penchant for going after injured starters on low risk deals this offseason with Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson. They also have a couple guys in the organization on the comeback trail in Cory Luebke and Casey Kelly.
With all of those guys fighting to get healthy what’s one more? Well there are only so many innings to go around in Spring Training and only so many spots in the rotation in El Paso. Are the Padres willing take away innings from someone like Matt Wisler just to see if Santana has something left in the tank? I’d hope not.
At the same time Billy Buckner, Chris Smith and Jason Lane were all starting for the Chihuahuas after different points last season, so it appears there likely won’t be a huge logjam of pitchers in AAA. Still at most two of the injured starters the Padres have can make the rotation and they’ll be competing with Wisler and Odrisamer Despaigne as well.
If the team does decide to sign Santana there’s a chance their AAA rotation could consist completely of rehabbing pitchers trying to get their careers back together and all with money tied to them with the exception of Kelly. That provides very little flexibility of advancement for anyone of their pitchers in AA. So if someone like Zech Lemond has big start to the year and proves he’s above the talent of the Texas League, the Padres may be forced to stall his development, because they have five rehab projects blocking the way.
That’s a pretty extreme example though. It assumes that none of the five make the big league club and that they’ll all be healthy enough to pitch on regularly at AAA. Still why should the Padres go after another comeback project when they already have four in progress? Because none of them are Johan Santana. If Santana is even half the pitcher he was from 2004 to 2010 then he’ll be worth whatever deal he gets.
During that stretch his ERA was never higher than 3.33 ERA and his ERA+ never lower than 129. Even his FIP was always pretty low topping out at 3.82. Obviosuly no one expects to comeback and pitch in that form, but even if you look at his numbers in 2012 he showed some promise while still battling his shoulder issues. His 4.85 ERA looks scary, but his FIP of 4.09 and xFIP of 4.02 proves he was still effective. He even threw two shutouts. One was the first no hitter in Mets history while the other was against our Padres.
Will Johan Santana call San Diego is home in 2015? I’d say probably not. While it’s a desirable location for him, with the pitcher friendly Petco Park and the beautiful weather, but I don’t see A.J. Preller adding another injury prone comeback project. It’s just not worth it at this point. The Padres have pitching depth and don’t have a need for someone like Santana. It’s a great story, but it’ll likely have to continue somewhere other than San Diego.