It is rarely good news for a player's future when he is placed on the disabled list. Not so in the case of Johan Santana. The Orioles purchased Santana's contract from Triple-A late and placed him on the disabled list late Monday afternoon, an indication that he just might be able to pitch this year.
CBS Sports's Jon Heyman reported last week that the Orioles and Santana were working on a deal to extend the June 1st opt-out in the lefty's contract. By calling up Santana and placing him on the disabled list, the Orioles are now locked into paying him the MLB minimum for the rest of the season. Apparently, Santana showed enough in his time at extended spring training to convince the Orioles to buy in, even though he isn't ready to pitch. The Orioles are hopeful Santana, who will need multiple rehab starts, will be ready to go by mid-to-late June.
Santana has spend the season working out at the club's spring training facility in Florida since signing a minor league deal in March. Santana isn't quite ready yet, but the Orioles are hopeful he can join the team by the middle of June after taking at least two rehab starts.
In February, Santana topped out at 81 MPH in a throwing session. Few would project a 35-year-old with an 81 MPH fastball (and no knuckleball) to make it to the majors within 5 months. Add to it that Santana had missed the entire previous season due to surgery on his left shoulder, the second time the joint needed repairs in three years, and it was somewhat surprising the Orioles were even willing to offer him a minor league deal.
But now, Heyman hears from a National League scout that Santana "sat at 88" and that his main issue was that "he's got to get the feel for the changeup back," presumably a task set for his rehab assignment. The Orioles have reasons to wait, given their issues in the rotation. Their 4.44 starters' ERA ranks sixth-worst in the majors, and none of their starting pitchers own an ERA under 4.00. Staff FIPs are similarly bad with the exception of Wei-Yin Chen's 3.57 mark.
Santana's 117 innings pitched in 2012 are his only logged in the past four years. Hitters roughed him up in 2012, as he finished with a 4.85 ERA and 17 home runs allowed. But from the beginning of the season through June 1st, the night he threw the first and only no-hitter in Mets history, a 134-pitch effort, Santana pitched 68 innings with a 2.38 ERA, 68 strikeouts against 21 walks, and a .568 opponents' OPS. Santana showed the effects for the rest of the year, as he gave up 13 of his 17 home runs over his remaining 49 innings, an astronomic 3.1 HR/9.
Santana doesn't have to be anywhere near the ace he was in early 2012 or in his prime to help the Orioles. The American League East is a weak division in 2014, and the Orioles have enough strong bats to contend if they can improve the starting rotation. Johan Santana didn't seem like a realistic option three months ago, but he has been a force with a fastball in the high 80s in the past. If it's back there again, there's no reason he can't succeed in Baltimore.