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RotoAuthority Unscripted: Johan Santana to Return Again, Again

Ten years ago, Johan Santana was the best pitcher in baseball. Actually, his numbers aren't as eye-popping now as they were then--a testament to the state of pitching and hitting in this decade--but believe it: the dude was awesome. And he might be coming back soon.

Okay, so this news isn't exactly the biggest resurrection of the week, and I'll be honest with you: if all your leagues are relatively shallow, this post won't be super-helpful for you. Still, anyone with a history of greatness like Santana's has earned being watched. Mets fans may disagree (I'll understand), but even the little bit of Johan that we got in 2012 (8.54 K/9, 2.85 K/BB, with a bad homer rate and ERA) offers something to be interested in.

There's no timetable yet and no need to be rushing off the waiver wire for him. And you don't need to release Doug Fister or Derek Holland to clear a spot on your DL just to get Santana. No, this isn't the herald of Santana's triumphant return, so much as it is a piece of information for you to stash away.

Fantasy baseball is about finding an edge against tough, informed competition. It certainly isn't about beating the bottom six teams in your league--there's a good chance you did that on draft day against average-quality competition. I know this because my research random stab in the dark suggests that over half of fantasy baseball owners do not seek out advice, news, or articles beyond what's offered on ESPN and their fantasy website provider after their draft. But I digress. Long story short: your goal is to beat your tough competition too. And that means looking for advantages where nobody else is.

What I'm not going to do is speculate (too much) on what Santana is likely to be if and when he does make it into Baltimore's rotation. I'll leave that to people who are actually scouts and can look at what he does and tell us about it. But you know I will be paying attention to those scouts and the updates that come from them. For the moment, I'm going to assume that the 2012 version of Johan (a little good, a little bad, a little really awesome) returns more or less intact, with the chance of his HR/FB rate regressing to something better than horrible. If he's less than that, the aforementioned scouting professionals, plus TV commentators, peanut gallery members, and (maybe) the Orioles' coaching staff will notice and pull the plug on the grand experiment in time reversal.

And if he's better than that, he absolutely has to be on your team. Again, don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that I know or think I know that Santana will come back and be awesome. Honestly, the chances are that he won't so keep your expectations tempered, even if you were a Twins fan in the '00's but have since moved to Baltimore and switched allegiances.

But I am saying that this situation is worth paying careful attention to, because Santana offers much greater potential reward than most deep-league waiver wire options. Yes, his floor is that of uselessness—but that’s true of every player waiting in the minors, sitting on the DL, or pitching for Baltimore. Essentially, the cost of Santana will be the same as the cost of your next Mets or Cubs closer lottery ticket, one-game platoon streamer, or backup to your backup catcher. The reward, though, is a serious impact pitcher (low probability) or a high-K, questionable-ERA guy (very reasonable probability) of the sort that’s plenty useful in deep formats.

All the eyes in your league will be on Santana’s teammate Kevin Gausman, or on Noah Syndergaard when and if they get the call to the show. Everyone will know it when Taijuan Walker and the rest of the Mariners’ rotation come back from the DL, and they’ll see Holland’s return from a mile away. Those pickups (if they aren’t already stashed) will be the product of whoever’s got the most FAAB money or the highest waiver priority, or whoever’s got the fastest Internet connection after the news hits Twitter. These guys have a real chance of providing a serious impact—but odds are, they’re ending up on someone else’s team.

Santana, however, isn’t likely to get quite the same fantasy reception. In fact, I expect experts and owners to be pretty tepid, even if TV commentators get really excited. But if, say, Gausman came up and struck out nearly a batter an inning with a low 4.00’s ERA, that would be a pretty good result. Santana did that in 2012 (okay, so his FIP was in the low 4.00’s, not his ERA, but still…). Think of Santana as a prospect without the hype and keep tabs on him. If the news takes a different turn and he doesn’t look good, well, there you go. But if things continue to progress towards him pitching in the Major League rotation, the risk (nothing, assuming you have someone you can drop without missing) versus reward makes him well worth the pursuit.

Editor's Note: You may have noticed some problems with RotoAuthority in the last couple days, as our blog host has been hit with an attack beyond this author's technical understanding. Hopefully, things are resolved, but bear with us if the situation continues. We'll be updating the site as regularly as possible to fill all your fantasies...I mean, your fantasy baseball needs.

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