From 2004 through 2009, there may not have been a better pitcher in baseball than Johan Santana. In those six seasons, Santana made the All-Star team four times, won two Cy Young Awards and even finished in the top ten in the MVP vote twice. During that time, Santana went 99-48 with a 2.86 ERA, striking out over a batter an inning while issuing just over two walks per nine innings. He was, without a doubt, one of the elite.
Then, injuries started to catch up to Santana. He missed all of 2011 and 2013, while missing parts of the other two seasons as well. While he was not the same pitcher he had been during his run of greatness, Santana still had his moments. His 2010 season, while not at Johan Santana levels, was still solid as he was 11-9 with a 2.98 ERA. He also threw the first no hitter in Mets history in 2012, and was 3-2 with a 2.38 ERA after that outing.
However, from that point on, Santana only turned in two quality starts. The wear of the 134 pitch outing turned out to be too much for his arm to handle, and he went 3-7 with an 8.27 ERA over his last ten starts, giving up thirteen home runs before being shelved for the rest of the year due to strained muscle in his back. Then, in Spring Training, Santana tore the capsule in his throwing shoulder again, causing him to miss all of 2013. Naturally, the Mets declined his option, making Santana a free agent.
Of all the reclamation projects out there, Johan Santana may be the most interesting. The Royals had already been tied to several, from Josh Johnson to Phil Hughes, but Santana likely has the most upside of all of them. He claims that he is fully healthy for the first time in years, and, if he does not receive the type of contract that he is looking for, is planning on pitching in front of any interested teams in January.
If Santana is truly healthy, he may be the biggest bargain in free agency. With his performance in 2012 during the first part of the season after missing all of 2011, he may be able to produce almost immediately. Since Santana is looking to recapture his form and reestablish is value, he may also be willing to accept a one year deal with an eye towards a larger payday in free agency if he can prove that he is healthy once again and close to his previous form. That willingness would make him the perfect low risk/high reward candidate.
Although he will be 35 by the end of Spring Training, Johan Santana may still have the highest ceiling of any of the pitchers the Royals had been linked to this offseason. If he is truly back to form, then the Royals may be able to locate that second starter that they may need without blocking any of the upcoming prospects. For a team with playoff aspirations, a healthy Santana could be the piece that pushes the Royals over the top in what is shaping up to be a competitive AL Central.