Johan Santana finally found a team willing to take a chance on his second comeback attempt, signing a minor-league deal with the Orioles on Tuesday that would pay him $3 million if he were to make the major-league roster with another $5.05 million of additional incentives based on games started and days on the 25-man roster. The Orioles seem very unlikely to have to pay any of that money, however, as Santana was last seen throwing in the low 80s in a workout for prospective employers and hasn't thrown a major-league pitch since August 2012. Since then, he's had a second surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his pitching shoulder, an injury which is frequently career-ending.
Santana first tore that anterior capsule in September 2010 and was unable to return to the majors until April 2012. Santana's fastball was sitting in the upper 80s upon his return, but he managed to slow down his changeup in accordance with that loss of velocity, maintaining a ten-mile-per-hour split between the two pitches that allowed him to pitch effectively for the first three months of the season. Over his first 16 starts, he posted a 2.76 ERA and struck out 8.5 men per nine innings, one of which was the first no-hitter in Mets history, a 134-pitch effort on June 1. However, Santana sprained his ankle covering first against the Cubs on July 6 and was ineffective after that, going 0-5 with a 15.63 ERA in his final five starts and, perhaps as a result of compensating for his ankle, re-tearing the capsule in his shoulder. Santana's first comeback from capsule surgery was both remarkable and unlikely (see Chien-Ming Wang, Chris Young, and the recently retired Mark Prior and Dallas Braden for examples of pitchers whose attempts to come back after a capsule tear were less successful), and a second comeback at the age of 35 (which Santana will be a week from Thursday) is all the more unlikely. As much optimism as may be attached to Santana's new contract and those multi-million-dollar bonuses, it is likely just another chapter in the long, drawn-out end to the career of a pitcher who was once the best in baseball.