What are we to make of the Mets’ decision today to push back Johan Santana at least two weeks with the specific purpose of building up arm strength?
With the exception of his first season with the Mets, Santana has not pitched a full year for his $137.5 million package. Last season ended with lower back inflammation and prevented him from having a normal offseason workout program. That’s why his arm isn’t as strong as it normally would be this time of spring.
My first reaction, of course, is a red flag, that this is a sign of things to come. When it comes to pitcher’s health, always bet the worst. Sure, that’s a pessimistic attitude, but that’s the way it usually works out – especially with the Mets.
The Mets are acting on the side of caution, which is the right tact. The Mets are going to pay Santana $31 million this year whether he pitches 200 innings or two. Really, their only option is caution as that’s the only way they’ll get anything out of him.
The Mets don’t know when Santana will be full strength, and if his status lingers I would not hesitate holding him back at the start of the season. It might be a prudent choice given the cold weather in April and Santana’s health issues to hold him back a couple of weeks.
This way, Santana can progress at his rate and not worry about rushing to get ready. This guy will pitch hurting, but does anybody really want that?
If Santana were to skip two or three starts at the start of the season, if would virtually assure him not reaching 215 innings, which automatically kicks in a $25 million option for 2014.
Ideally, the Mets would love to get out from under Santana’s contract, but nobody will deal for him now. Even if Santana were to pitch well and be healthy in the first half, he would be difficult to move regardless of how of his contract the Mets assume. If there’s a chance of Santana reaching his innings clause no team will bite knowing it would cost them $25 million in 2014.
The greatest value Santana has to the Mets is to be healthy and pitch well to give them a chance to be competitive and sell tickets. And, he has to do that in less than 215 innings.
I never was confident of Santana going through the season unscathed, which is why not re-signing Chris Young was puzzling. Young, who just signed with the Washington Nationals, showed he was healthy last season and had his moments when he kept the Mets in the game, which is what you require from a fifth starter.
The Mets have other pitching questions with their starters that having another veteran arm would be a necessity. But, to have that need before the first exhibition is positively Met-like.