Could Johan return to the Twins? Don't count it out

The Twins are exploring plenty of options as they try to shore up their starting pitching through free agency.

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New York Mets' Johan Santana

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The free agency signing period has started in Major League Baseball, and one intriguing question already has surfaced: Which Santana could land in a Twins uniform next season? Ervin, Johan or both?

The Twins have expressed interest in righthander Ervin Santana, a durable and dependable starter who was 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA for Kansas City last season. But multiple sources have confirmed that the Twins also have connected with former Twins star Johan Santana, who missed all of 2013 with the New York Mets following the second surgery on his prized left shoulder in three seasons.

The Twins are one of several teams that have contacted Johan Santana’s agents and asked to look at Santana’s medical information, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

Santana, who will be 35 on March 13, would definitely be a reclamation project, as he might not be ready to pitch in a game by Opening Day. But it would likely pique the interest of fans. He is working out near his home in Fort Myers, Fla., so proximity to the Twins’ year-round facility at the Lee County Sports Complex would be ideal.

“Johan is progressing well. He’s into his throwing program and is feeling good,” said Ed Greenberg, who represents Santana along with brother Peter Greenberg. “It’s still a work in progress, but is progressing as planned.”

When asked about possible interest in Santana, Twins General Manager Terry Ryan declined to discuss specific free agents.

Johan’s odds

It would make for a good story line, a former Cy Young hero returning to his former club to see if he can still get hitters out. But Santana has an uphill battle. Shoulder injuries are tough to recover from, often tougher than Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgeries. And Santana has had two of them.

He was traded by the Twins to the Mets in February 2008 for righthanders Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra and outfielder Carlos Gomez. Guerra left as a minor league free agent earlier this week, leaving none of the four in the organization.

Santana went 46-34 with a 3.18 ERA in four seasons with the Mets. But he had surgery Sept. 14, 2010, to repair tears in the front and bottom of the anterior capsule in his left shoulder. He returned April 5, 2012, and pitched the first no-hitter in Mets history on June 1, 2012, needing 134 pitches. He went 3-7 with an 8.27 ERA and ended the season early because of lower back inflammation. He reported to 2013 spring training with a weak shoulder and had surgery April 2 to repair a tear in the front capsule.

Ed Greenberg said doctors took a different approach to stitching the capsule, and it is holding steady. Santana, the 2004 and 2006 AL Cy Young Award winner, enjoyed his time with the Twins and working with pitching coach Rick Anderson.

“Johan still loves Minnesota,” Ed Greenberg said. “It has created an interesting option for him. But it is in the early stages, and a lot of teams have contacted us.”

The other Santana

The Twins will move forward on other fronts while the Santana situation plays out. Ervin Santana, 105-90 in his career, would address an immediate need. He has thrown 200 innings in five seasons, including three of the last four. He also has posted a sub-4.00 ERA in three of the past four seasons.

The Twins are checking with agents for several pitchers, such as Dan Haren, Scott Feldman and Ricky Nolasco. How serious their interest is remains unclear.

But their stated goal this offseason is to find quality upgrades for their rotation and hopefully a hitter to boost the offense. One challenge might be convincing quality free agents to join a club that has lost at least 96 games in three consecutive seasons.

“I don’t think it will be that big of an obstacle,” Ryan said. “We saw what happened to Boston this year, and Cleveland was right in it. They were two teams that struggled [the previous] year. Players and agents realize that it can be a quicker turnaround than in years past.

“We’ve got a pretty good reputation. I think Ron Gardenhire has a tremendous reputation around the industry. We have a good community and a good ballpark. We have been good for a few years, but we have fallen on hard times of late. But we are headed in the right direction.”

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