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Is Johan Santana attempting a MLB comeback in 2018?

He hasn’t said no... and it could potentially have some serious Hall of Fame consequences.

Twins v Orioles
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

There’s been a lot of talk about Johan Santana this offseason with him making his first appearance on the MLB Hall of Fame ballot. Usually I’m super jazzed over Johan Santana talk (remember when he struck out 17 batters in one game?!), but this year it’s sort of bumming me out. See, I always look forward to writing my annual offseason post about Johan Santana attempting his MLB comeback, but now Santana’s spectacularly exploding arm and infected toe the stupid Hall of Fame is seemingly going to deny me of this joy.

Then I read Jon Heyman’s recent MLB offseason notes:

Johan Santana seemed to be surprised to be on the Hall of Fame ballot since he had yet to officially retire.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

Heyman further explained:

He hasn’t pitched in the big leagues for five years, which is what gets a person on the ballot (assuming their career qualifies), but he was briefly on the 40-man with the Orioles in 2014, so he wasn’t sure. Anyway, he’s thrown on the side a few times, and it isn’t clear whether he may try a comeback.

You guys — Johan Santana is totally going to try making an MLB comeback.

I couldn’t find any evidence corroborating this theory, but I also couldn’t find anything disproving it, so I think it’s safe to say the former Twin and Met is probably still attempting a comeback. It’s not completely crazy either: Johan is only turning 39 years old next March. For some perspective, Bartolo Colon pitched last year at age 44 (and, while we’re on the subject, he should also maybe give that 2005 Cy Young to Santana).

In the five years since his last major league appearance, Santana has pitched some during rehab and in his native Venezuela. Perhaps — and I’m just spit-balling here — the extra downtime has allowed Santana’s arm to recuperate a bit? If Brad Radke could pitch 2005 and 2006 with a torn labrum (and an additional stress fracture in his shoulder the later of those two years), Santana should be able to pitch in 2018.

Here’s what I’m really concerned about, though: Of the 89 HOF ballots made public so far, Johan Santana hasn’t received a single vote. That fact is especially surprising because there are credible writers who do think Santana should be in the Hall of Fame, and many (if not most) think he’s at least a close call. I mean, even Brad Radke got two Hall of Fame votes. How could Santana not even get one?

The lack of votes for Santana, of course, is due to three interwoven facts: 1.) BBWAA voters can only pick 10 players per ballot; 2.) the ballot is overflowing with qualified players this year because past BBWAA voters stupidly didn’t vote qualified candidates in (steroids blah blah blah); and 3.) Johan Santana... is most likely not a Hall of Famer.

At least, not yet.

Santana hasn’t officially retired. Santana is still a (mostly) strapping young man. Here’s Santana posing with the street named after him at the Twins’ spring training facility last May:

He still looks better than Bartolo did in 2005! STILL!

Players need to receive 5% of the vote to stay on the HOF ballot for the next year, and sadly, it doesn’t look like that will be the case for Johan (for the reasons mentioned above). It would be an awful shame for him to fall off the ballot so fast. Santana could still be voted on via the veteran’s committee in about ten years, but Jesus, am I still going to be alive to see that? I could get hit by a bus in 2024.

There’s another way for Johan to make it, though: the comeback. The long-fabled comeback. Make the comeback you’ve been promising us for the past five years, Johan. Just do it. Some team must be willing to give you a chance. Have you tried, I dunno, the Padres?

If Johan did comeback in 2018 — even just for a game — it would mean he’d re-appear on the HOF ballot in 2023. This has actually happened at least once before, with pitcher Jose Rijo. Rijo pitched in the majors from 1984 to 1995 before taking five years off, later returning to pitch in 2001 and 2002. Rijo — who had a career 3.24 ERA with a 1.26 WHIP and 7.7 SO/9 — received one HOF vote when he was first eligible in 2001, and when eligible again in 2008, he received... zero votes. Damn it, that’s not helping my argument.

Still, HOF voting these days is much weirder. With the steroids mess, and the rule changes in voting, things have drastically changed. Also, Johan Santana was a better pitcher than Jose Rijo. Hell, Santana was a better pitcher than anyone on the planet for at least a couple years in time. He may lack the postseason heroics of other short-career Hall of Famers such as Sandy Koulfax and Kirby Puckett... but what if, after five years, Johan actually made his unprecedented major league comeback? What would that mean?

Just saying...