The New York Mets signed Johan Santana to a six-year, $137.5M contract in 2008 to spearhead a rotation that looked to close Shea Stadium with a championship. Santana was the perfect fit for a club in desperate need of a bonafide ace: A two-time Cy Young Award winner, he thrice led the American League in strikeouts and held the AL to a WHIP below 1.000 in four consecutive seasons.
Santana was everything the club asked for when healthy. He led the National League in ERA during his inaugural season in Flushing and provided an emotional, hard-fought battle on three days rest on the penultimate day of the season to preserve the club’s playoff hopes. Most famously, he pitched the franchise’s first no-hitter.
Unfortunately, the club didn’t have the same success.
Santana’s time in New York will be remembered by the two aforementioned performances that truly define the 34-year-old oft injured starting pitcher: A competitive spirit that was overmatched by physical ailments that prevented his time with the club from being truly great. While some fans may remember him in a more negative light because of the perceived value of his performance versus his contract value, it’s near-impossible not to recognize how special of a pitcher Santana was.
Santana is coming off of his second surgery on his anterior capsule and is expected to be ready to compete in spring training. The star pitcher is set to hit free agency for the first time in his career in several weeks and has yet to rule out a reunion with the Mets.
Whether or not Santana will be able to secure a spot in a big league rotation from the offset of the season will be dependent on his ability to recover from the surgery that had sidelined him from September 2010-April 2012. No pitcher has returned from the surgery twice, and very few pitchers have remained effective following the first surgery. He won’t likely command a big dollar contract, but a reunion with the Minnesota Twins would make sense if he were looking to reestablish himself in a pitching-friendly environment.
The Mets will be without Matt Harvey and Jeremy Hefner for the duration of the 2014 season and will seek a veteran starter on the free agent market. Santana could prove to be problematic if he were to suffer an injury and the club could be exposed with a lack of pitching depth that could cost them a significant amount of games during the year.
While it’s possible that Rob Thomas’ “Smooth” has played for the final time with Johan Santana throws his warm-up pitches at Citi Field, there would be no harm in adding the veteran if he were to come cheaply and the club ensured a back-up plan. Despite this, it’s hard to see Santana turning down a guaranteed deal, which a club desperate for help will likely give the former Cy Young winner.
Photo Credit: Michael Baron