The Mets have announced that Johan Santana will not break camp with the Mets when the team heads north next weekend. Santana has still not been able to pitch off a mound and only today will begin long-tossing, albeit from a distance of just 90 feet.
As much as I would like to see Santana tantalize hitters at Citi Field with his signature change-up, I wouldn’t mind if he took a little extra time before joining the team in New York. Why would I ever want the Mets’ ace to take it slow when the Mets could use his services in Flushing? The answer to that can be summed up in two words.
In 2011, Carlos Beltran was entering the final year of his seven-year, $119 million contract. The outfielder had not played a full season in the major leagues since 2008 because of an assortment of injuries. When the 2011 campaign opened, the Mets didn’t expect much from Beltran. They were just hoping he could stay healthy so that he would have some value at the trade deadline. Beltran went on to post outstanding offensive numbers, collecting 32 doubles, 15 homers and 66 RBIs by late July. His power and run production were far and away the best of any player on the team, as he remained the team leader in home runs and RBIs at season’s end even though he played the final two months of the year as a member of the San Francisco Giants.
Despite missing large chunks of the 2009 and 2010 seasons, Beltran was able to put together several good months in 2011. Those months of solid production made Beltran a valuable trade chip and netted the team über-pitching prospect Zack Wheeler at the trade deadline.
Fast forward two years later. Now it’s Johan Santana’s turn to be in the final year of his lucrative multi-year contract. Like Beltran, Santana is coming off a number of injury-plagued seasons. And like Beltran, the Mets are hoping Santana can provide some flashes of his former brilliance so he can become a valuable trade commodity come late July.
After missing the entire 2011 campaign, Johan Santana was excellent for the first two months of the 2012 season. The southpaw pitched the team’s first no-hitter and was among the league leaders in ERA and strikeouts through early June. But everything began to unravel for Santana prior to the All-Star Break and he was shut down for the season in mid-August.
If Santana were ready to pitch for the Mets on Opening Day, he could break down once again before the trade deadline. Then he would have no value at the trade deadline. But by slowing him down and not pushing him back into the starting rotation too soon, it might keep him healthy, and most importantly, productive through the All-Star Break.
No one thought the Mets would be able to trade Beltran because of his injury history and his high salary. But Beltran was able to stay healthy and productive through the first half of 2011, and San Francisco was desperate to defend their 2010 World Series championship. Desperate times called for desperate measures. And desperate times forced the Giants to call Sandy Alderson, giving in to the general manager’s demands for the outfielder.
With the addition of a second wild card in each league, more teams will think of themselves as contenders as the trade deadline approaches. Those teams will be looking for anything to push them over the top. Some teams will be looking for hitters, while other teams will be inquiring about bullpen help. But all the Mets need is one team to have a hole in their starting rotation – a hole that can be plugged by a healthy and productive left-handed veteran.
Zack Wheeler was pitching in A-ball when the Mets acquired him in the Carlos Beltran deal. Two years later, he is within a few months of earning his first call-up to the major leagues. If all goes well, perhaps he’ll receive that call in late July. Perhaps Wheeler will be called upon to replace Johan Santana in the rotation because the Mets found a suitor willing to part ways with a prospect for his services. And perhaps it’ll all happen because Santana was able to give the Mets a few productive months in 2013.
The Mets have capable starting pitchers in their starting rotation. They do not need to rush Johan Santana back before he’s 100% ready to go. In 2011, Carlos Beltran gave the Mets a productive four months. Because of it, the Mets might get a productive decade from Zack Wheeler. All the Mets need from Santana is a few productive months and they might get another Zack Wheeler type from a team that believes it has a shot to play in October this year.
Former Mets general manager Jim Duquette once traded away his team’s top pitching prospect for the never-an-ace Victor Zambrano. Even a less-than-100% Johan Santana is better than Zambrano ever was. Imagine the prospects the Mets can fleece if Santana is anywhere near 100% in June and July.
Carlos Beltran has been unfairly blamed for everything that has gone wrong for the Mets since Game 7 in 2006. But if Johan Santana can follow his example and become healthy and productive at the right time, perhaps other teams might blame Beltran for something. Better them than us.