- Wallace Matthews, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW YORK -- By just about any standard, Johan Santana is a terrible risk.
He has missed two out of the past three seasons due to injury. He will turn 34 a couple of weeks before Opening Day. And you can count the number of pitchers who have successfully returned to the major leagues after having not one, but two surgeries to repair a torn shoulder capsule, on two fingers. Provided those fingers are your thumb and index finger, forming a zero.
Still, what do the Yankees have to lose by offering him a minor league deal and a chance to prove himself in spring training?
It seems this is the way the Yankees will have to go now that it appears the Rakuten Golden Eagles plan to dig their talons deep into Masahiro Tanaka and not allow him to get away until they absolutely have to, which is two years from now.
Even by their own concession, the available starting arms in their system -- David Phelps, Michael Pineda, Vidal Nuno and Adam Warren -- probably will compete for the No. 5 job. And with Hiroki Kuroda, CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova probably slotted 1-2-3, the Yankees are looking for a solid No. 4.
So why not Santana?
Of all the free-agent pitchers still out there on the board, Santana has the best portfolio: the highest winning percentage, the lowest ERA and WHIP, the highest career WAR. He even did something once thought to be impossible, which is pitch a no-hitter for the Mets.
Yes, he would be a risky proposition, and given the nature of his injury and the fact that it happened twice, perhaps doomed to fail.
But for those same reasons, he is likely to be quite affordable, and if he can make it back to being a serviceable pitcher again, could turn out to be a tremendously good investment.
In a way, there are parallels to Bartolo Colon, who had been out of baseball for a year when the Yankees, having received good reports on him from Tony Pena, their bench coach who had managed him in winter ball, gambled $900,000 and a spring training locker on him in 2011. He wound up not only making the team, but resurrecting his career; the Mets, of all teams, just decided he was worth 20 million of their scarce dollars over two seasons.
Santana also reminds you a bit of a left-handed Pedro Martinez, a once tremendously talented pitcher who probably still knows enough about how to continue to get big league hitters out on a consistent basis.
Obviously, because of his injury history, Santana can't be the only alternative -- the Yankees might want to extend a similar invitation to Roy Oswalt, whose recurring back injuries have rendered him nearly useless the past few seasons but as recently as 2010 went 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA for the Phillies. And they might do well to add a journeyman like Paul Maholm as insurance in case neither of them work out.
Because at their best, both Santana and Oswalt were much better pitchers than this year's "big-ticket" starters still looking for a home: Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez. Garza's a career .500 pitcher and Ervin -- who allowed a league-leading 39 home runs two seasons ago -- will have you longing for the return of Phil Hughes. Jimenez is probably the best of the three but is probably seeking at least $15 million a season for three or more seasons, and the Yankees have made it clear they are not interested in investing that kind of cash this year in any pitcher not named Kuroda or Tanaka.
The Yankees can stock up on journeymen, retreads -- and comebackers like Santana and Oswalt -- at probably less than a million apiece and turn them loose in spring training to show what they've got left.
In the case of Johan Santana, that could be plenty, and plenty worth pursuing.