SARASOTA, Fla. – Two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana visited the Ed Smith Stadium Complex on Monday morning with little fanfare — the latest veteran seeking a second baseball life with the Orioles.
The Orioles were nearing a minor league deal with the injury-plagued Santana on Monday evening, according to an industry source. He would be the latest reclamation project under executive vice president Dan Duquette.
Santana — who will be 35 this month — was once one of the best left-handed pitchers in the game, but he did not pitch at all last season after his second shoulder surgery in three seasons last April to repair a torn anterior capsule. He has pitched in just 21 games since the end of the 2010 season.
Santana will likely report to the team’s minor league camp at Twin Lakes Park, where he will continue rehabbing and strengthing his shoulder.
There is no clear timetable for Santana’s return, but he could return by June, according to an industry source.
The Orioles don’t know what they will get from Santana, but a minor league deal offers little risk and high return if he is anywhere close to his former self.
Under Duquette, the Orioles have a history of giving opportunity to veteran pitchers looking for another chance. Over the past two seasons, the club has signed left-hander Dontrelle Willis, right-hander Freddy Garcia and left-hander Jamie Moyer to minor league deals. Garcia was the only one of that group to make it to the majors, with the other two veterans exercising opt-out clauses in their contracts.
Even this season, the Orioles signed veteran slugger Jack Cust — who also didn’t play in the majors in 2013 — to a minor league deal following a minicamp tryout in January. Two years ago, the Orioles gave Miguel Tejada a minor league deal for his third stint in the organization, but he also took an opt-out.
The Orioles were one of several teams to scout Santana last week during a bullpen session in Fort Myers, Fla. During that session, Santana’s fastball reportedly topped out at just 81 mph, even though he did show flashes of the changeup that made him so tough when he was healthy.
After the Orioles’ 9-2 exhibition loss to the Minnesota Twins at Ed Smith Stadium on Monday, Orioles manager Buck Showalter wouldn’t talk specifics about any impending deal with Santana.
“I told you when we started, there’s irons in the fire,” Showalter said. “That’s been going on for quite some time. Certain things like that come to fruition at different times. ...”
From 2004 to 2008, Santana was one of the best and most durable left-handers in baseball. He won the AL Cy Young Award in 2004 and 2006 with the Twins and finished among the top five votegetters for the Cy Young in each of the other three seasons, posting 219 innings or more in each of those campaigns.
“There’s no doubt that in the past he was one of the best,” Orioles first baseman Chris Davis said. “Hopefully, he can regain his form and be a help for us. There are some things you just can’t coach and experience is one of those things and he definitely brings that to the table.”
Santana had his first shoulder surgery on Sept. 14, 2010 less than three years into a six-year deal with the New York Mets that paid him $137.5 million, including a $5.5 million buyout on their $25 million club option for 2014.
Santana is 139-78 with a 3.20 ERA over his career, but he is just 6-9 with a 4.85 ERA in 21 starts since his first shoulder surgery.
The Orioles came under scrutiny this offseason when the club pulled away from two major league deals — including a two-year, $15 million deal with closer Grant Balfour — when concerns arose during the players’ club physical. But a minor league deal like Santana’s offers much less risk and a higher possible upside.