But it is a project both the 34-year-old and the Orioles are equally committed to.
"Nothing to lose, a lot to gain," Santana said Wednesday as he stood in front of his new locker at Ed Smith Stadium following his first workout with the team. "So that's the way we're looking at it."
Santana, who did not pitch in 2013 after undergoing surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his left shoulder, said he never contemplated retirement, although it was certainly an option. It's just not the way Santana -- who is aggressively attacking his rehab and could be an option by June 1 -- wanted his illustrious career to end.
"I was told by the doctor the surgery was successful, and it was going to be up to me to come back, and that's all I needed to hear," Santana said. "He told me it's not about being a tough surgery or whatever, it's just about how you're going to handle it, and how much you put into it. I really have worked hard to be [at] this point, and I'm not done yet.
"I don't want to go out in the game like that. I want to go out of the game on my own terms, knowing this is going to be my last game, knowing this is going to be my last year. And not just not knowing maybe that my last game [in 2012] was my last one. I don't even know who I faced, and when it was. I might not want to remember."
Santana is intent on making a whole new set of memories in Baltimore, calling it a "new chapter" of his career and a chance to prove that he can still be in the big leagues. He auditioned for seven teams before choosing the O's, citing opportunity and his familiarity with athletic trainer Chris Correnti as reasons that helped him lean toward Baltimore -- along with the club's chance to be a postseason contender.
"Definitely being in this situation is good for me," Santana said. "I don't even know when I am going to pitch again, but I hope I will do it and do it for this ballclub. And it means a lot to me. Because I don't know what the future holds, I don't know when my career is going to end. So you just got to take a chance, and I think I'm in a good situation here."
It's hard to project exactly what that situation will be when/if the time comes for the club to make a decision on Santana, who will stay in extended spring camp until he's ready for competition. The Orioles, after signing Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year deal, have strengthened their rotation, but there's still some uncertainty and an open competition in camp for the fifth spot. If Santana, whose incentives-heavy, one-year deal has a May 30 opt-out clause, can return to his old form, it could be a big boost for the O's down the stretch.
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. During 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).
Manager Buck Showalter said Tuesday that despite the idea of having Santana pitch in relief, he thinks the veteran may hold up better physically as a starter.
"The main thing here is to make sure the shoulder is back to being healthy, and then after that, we will see how it goes," Santana said.
"Definitely, my intention is to be a starter. There is no question about it, but at the same time, we've got to make sure we are capable to do that in the long term. So I don't really know as of right now.
"We'll make adjustments as we go. But definitely the main focus here is getting the strength back. So that's what I'm going to focus on."