The Twins announced today that right-hander Ervin Santana underwent a “capsular release/debridement procedure” on the middle finger of his right hand. He’s expected to be ready for a return to game activity in 10 to 12 weeks, according to the announcement.
Santana, according to the Twins, began experiencing discomfort in his right hand after ramping up bullpen work in preparation for Spring Training. The issue is something he’s dealt with in the past and had reviewed following the 2017 season, per the announcement, at which point an MRI and x-rays revealed that his tendon was intact, prompting doctors to recommend an injection. The injury is a “result of repeated cumulative stress from pitching, not one acute event, and did not present again until this past week,” the team further detailed.
Certainly, the news comes as a blow to a Twins team that has aspirations of contending for its first American League Central title since 2010. The 35-year-old Santana has been among the game’s most durable arms over the past decade and has been the Twins’ most consistent starter over the past two seasons. He’ll now be sidelined until anywhere from mid-April to early May as he recovers from this procedure. With him on the shelf to open the season, an already murky Twins rotation now figures to include Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson and Adalberto Mejia, with several other names vying for starting opportunities as well.
Of course, the Twins have been prominently linked to the top name on the free agent market, Yu Darvish, with varying ties to the other top three starters: Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn. Minnesota has reportedly been among the most aggressive teams on the Darvish front anyhow, and the loss of Santana even for only a month should only hasten their pursuit of rotation help (be it Darvish, a different free agent or a trade acquisition).
From a contractual standpoint, the injury to Santana is not without repercussions. Santana’s four-year, $55MM contract with the Twins comes with a $14MM club option for the 2019 campaign that would have automatically vested had he reached 200 innings this season. While that’s certainly still possible, especially if Santana’s return comes on the shorter end of the 10- to 12-week timeline, missing even a handful of starts at the beginning of the year makes that goal considerably tougher to achieve. Santana made 33 starts last year and totaled 211 1/3 innings — the second-highest total in MLB — but even missing two to three starts would have left him a bit shy of that mark.
Depending on how well Santana pitches, the Twins could well still exercise their end of that option, though it now seems likely to be entirely the team’s decision as opposed to a salary that Santana could lock in via the strength of his own performance.