On Tuesday, George A. King III of the New York Post reported that seven teams checked in on Johan Santana. The lefty starting pitcher was on display for a workout in Fort Myers, Florida. The Yankees, Twins, and Orioles were three of those teams. The Cubs were not among those to send a representative, but with the way Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer operate, the North Siders are certain to keep be on the lookout for buy low opportunities, even if from afar at camp in Arizona.
The former Twins and Mets ace barely cracked 80 on the radar gun, but otherwise had a respectable throwing session. Apparently first hand reports stated that Santana was in good shape and was where he should be at this point in his rehab process. It remains to be seen how the pitcher feels in the next day or so after the session. Santana felt discomfort last month after a similar session, dashing his hopes of making his comeback by Opening Day and leaving him without a team as Spring Training begins.
According to King, the Mets bought out Santana’s 2014 option for $5.5 million to avoid the $25 million annual salary. Combined with the fact that Santana is now not reporting to camp at the start of Spring Training, teams should be able to take a flier on the southpaw via a minor league deal. Epstein and Hoyer have been known to load up on pitching depth via these non guaranteed deals the last couple of seasons and Santana would certainly fit that mold.
The Cubs front office could even get creative and consider a split contract like they did with Korean import reliever Chang Yong Lim. The former Cub side arm tosser was also coming off injury and the deal allowed him to build up his arm strength down in the minors before getting a late season look in 2013. Considering Santana’s current pace in his rehab, the same approach with the Venezuelan could prove to be mutually beneficial. The split contract would allow the Cubs to reward Santana should the lefty earn his way back to the Majors at some point in 2014 or even 2015. Scott Baker money is all it could take to lure Santana to Wrigley.
Now the reported low velocity, combined with Santana turning 35 in March, may do little to excite Cubs fans already growing wary of back to back losing seasons. But like the rest of the rebuilt roster, the focus should be on the bigger picture and the potential upside. Santana is just one active season removed from a year where he went 11-9 with a 2.98 ERA in 29 starts for the Mets. Despite injuries causing him to miss two of the last three campaigns, Santana is a left handed control artist and that mere fact works in his favor in terms of a successful comeback. What could Santana offer to this Cubs team? Think Greg Maddux‘s second go around on the North Side or even the seemingly never ending career of fellow lefty Jamie Moyer. A .500 record with an ERA in the high 3.00 or low 4.00 while providing a veteran presence in the Cubs pitching staff would be well worth the investment of a few million dollars. The worst that could happen is that the Cubs get Baker 2.0. The team would not be signing Santana to be their ace or return to Cy Young contending form.
With those guarded expectations in mind, the Cubs should be eyeing Santana as long as the soon to be 35 \-year-old is eyeing a comeback.