TAMPA, Fla. -- The Orioles officially completed a Minor League deal Tuesday with free-agent pitcher Johan Santana, a low-risk move that could bolster the club in the second half if the two-time Cy Young Award winner can recapture his form.
"He's been really getting after his rehab," executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said of Santana, who did not pitch in 2013 after undergoing surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his left shoulder for the second time in three years. "He's only 34 years old, and he's determined to come back and pitch. He has some lifelong goals that he'd like to fulfill, and he's another quality left-hander that will be able to help our club."
Santana's contract has a base salary of $3 million, with incentives based on the number of starts he makes for the club, and Duquette said the target date for Santana to be an option is June 1. While his velocity at an audition last week reportedly topped out in the low 80s, the Orioles feel confident that will improve as Santana continues to go through the rehab process.
"Puts us in position to get kind of lucky," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who thinks Santana will hold up better physically as a starter. "I'm not going to say it's a no-lose proposition. There are things you lose, but it makes a risk worth taking. I think it's exciting, the possibility down the road. I'm hoping we get five starters who pitch so well, we don't need it, but pedigree speaks for itself. We have some people here who I really trust their background and their opinion with Johan."
Santana has worked with athletic trainer Chris Correnti and knows director of pitching development Rick Peterson from his time with the Mets organization. He visited the Orioles' Spring Training complex in Sarasota on Monday -- taking a picture with prospect Eduardo Rodriguez -- and Duquette mentioned Santana's character and drive as important factors as well.
Santana is 139-78 with a 3.20 ERA in 360 career games (284 starts) with the Twins and Mets since making his debut in 2000. In a seven-season span from 2004-10, he made at least 25 starts and posted an ERA of 3.33 or lower in each season, including five seasons with 29 or more starts and a sub-3.00 ERA. In that time, Santana led the Majors in ERA (2.87) and strikeouts (1,479), tied for second in wins (110), and ranked fourth in innings pitched (1,512 1/3 innings).
"If he can get his velocity to the point where he has enough separation with his changeup," Showalter said. "It's intriguing for me to look at 2012, when he was hurt a lot, and he still averaged a strikeout per inning. That's a big thing. If he can just handle the workload. It's one thing to be able to get back. Can you withstand the workload?"
Duquette mentioned that the same surgeon who performed Santana's surgery also did Bret Saberhagen's, and Saberhagen went on to sign with Boston and collected 25 wins over the next two seasons, posting a 3.96 ERA in 1998 and 2.95 the following year.
"We know that was a long time ago, and some of the things have been upgraded," Showalter said. "We'll see. I think it's a good risk."
Santana is expected to be at Orioles camp on Wednesday, and Showalter said they would map out a plan at some point to better project his throwing schedule.
"I don't know if he or they or Dan has weighed in on a time frame, the worst-case scenario," Showalter said. "But there were some people interested in him, and I'd like to think he picked us as much as we picked him."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli.