Did Santana Commit Career Suicide?



When Johan Santana said he doesn’t know when he will pitch again, it isn’t inconceivable it could be never.

Santana’s left shoulder is not getting better and it isn’t unfair to wonder if the prideful or stubborn lefthander – take your pick – may have committed career suicide on March 3, a quiet Sunday that turned into one of the Mets’ loudest days of spring training.

The day after GM Sandy Alderson said he thought the Mets’ $31-million commitment was at least ten days from getting on the mound and not in good shape, Santana took it upon himself to prove him and the questioning media wrong.

Now, there’s no longer doubt of him staying in Florida or being on the Opening Day roster.

“I’ve just got to stay here and work out and get ready,’’ Santana told reporters over the weekend. “… I’m making progress. It’s just I don’t know when I’m going to be pitching again. That’s the thing: We cannot think ahead. The way we’re approaching everything is every day make sure we have a good day.’’

Too bad he wasn’t thinking that way when he expressed displeasure in not playing in the World Baseball Classic, and later anger at Alderson. Who knows what went through Santana’s mind when he took the mound with an “I’ll show you’’ chip on his shoulder.

How can there be progress when he can’t think ahead? How can there be progress when his shoulder isn’t close?

Since that day, Santana threw a light session, but was scratched from a start and has been reduced to 90-foot long tossing. Do you realize how far away that distance is from a regular season game?

He must gradually build up to 180 feet, and after cleared at that distance will he be allowed on the mound. Then, it’s throwing batting practice and building his pitch count up to 100. Manager Terry Collins said Santana needs to go through a spring training, which is six weeks. But, that clock doesn’t start until he gets on the mound, and nobody can say when that will be.

That’s progress?

And, that’s assuming there are no setbacks, of which there have been several during this struggle since shoulder surgery in September of 2010 to repair a torn anterior capsule.

Of course, it is hard to pinpoint an exact time when a pitcher’s million-dollar arm turns to ten cents. There was the injury in 2010, but Santana had issues with his shoulder in Minnesota before the trade to the Mets.

The wear and tear on a major league pitcher’s arm begins with the first pitch. Santana made 34 starts in 2008, his first year with the Mets, but had surgery in the off-season and hasn’t come close to pitching a full season since.

After two winters of rehab, Santana made it back last year with initial success, including a controversial no-hitter, the only one in franchise history.

Did Collins make a mistake leaving Santana in for 134 pitches, thinking he was giving the pitcher a shot at a career moment and Mets’ fans their lone bright spot in what would be a dark summer?

Of course, Santana didn’t want to come out, and no pitcher admits to being tired, but this was different. Had the no-hitter not been on the table Santana never would have continued pitching. His summer quickly unraveled and included a career-worst six-game losing streak.

After two winters of rehab, Santana, with the Mets’ knowledge, did not have a normal offseason. Then again, nothing has been routine about his winters since 2007 as there has been an injury issue each year.

“I’ve been in this game for a while,’’ Santana said. “I went through that [surgery] a couple of years ago and I’m still here. So I’m going to battle and try to come back and help as much as I can. When that is going to happen, I don’t really know.’’

Several questions are raised through Santana’s uncertainty. How much did the no-hitter hurt him? How carefully was Santana monitored in the offseason? Did going slower backfire? It is easy to suggest the no-hitter hurt, but how much did Santana contribute to his own demise this spring?

“I’m just building up my strength and throwing more volume,’’ Santana said. “… With injuries you never know. I got to spring training feeling good. And then, once I started getting to pitch and stuff and I got on the mound, I didn’t feel I was making progress.’’

If he didn’t believe he was making progress, then why consider the WBC?  More to the point, if he wasn’t making progress why did he get on the mound March 3, when his manager wasn’t expecting him to throw for nearly two weeks?

What forced him, pride or anger? Perhaps, he simply ran out of patience waiting to find out if he’ll ever make it back.

Santana might finally have his answer.

13 thoughts on “Did Santana Commit Career Suicide?

  1. It is looking more like June if Santana is ready to pitch at all. He has not even stepped on a mound yet. At that point Wheeler should be ready to be promoted. I think the Mets should expect nothing from Santana this year. Nothing should block Wheeler as well. If he is pitching well he should be promoted. I can understand holding on to an extra year of control on the player by not promoting in April but the super two status should not stand in the way.

    • Glen: The Mets are thinking May, but that’s being overly optimistic. It is entirely possible if Santana does come back that Wheeler will be ready. Hadn’t thought of that. I understand the economics of keeping him down now, but it coincides with him not being ready.-JD

  2. As a diehard fan of both the Mets and Johan Santana, I’ve watched his tenure with the Mets not always through rose-colored glasses. When he had the shoulder capsule surgery in 2010, the prognosis for that type of injury was “your number 1 starter will now be your number 3 starter.” I could live with that, exorbitant salary aside. And as I sat in my seat at Citi Field on that Friday night of June 1st against the World Champion Cardinals, I wondered as the game progressed and pitch count increased, if he completed the game and got our first no-hitter, whether it was going to come back and haunt both him and us. We’ll never know because his current issues could’ve happened even if he threw 100 pitches that night. The issue is highlighted because he had never thrown that many pitches, ever, throughout his career. The man has the heart of a lion and is a fierce competitor. There’s no doubt in my mind that if anyone can come back from this, it’s Johan Santana. It’s his last season with us as the Mets won’t be picking up his option next year and I’m sure he wants to showcase what he’s got left so he can pitch someplace, somewhere, in 2014.

    • I hope he pitches for the Mets again.

      That said isn’t this the same injury Chien-Ming Wang had?

      Johan has been one of my favorite players for the team the past few years because of his attitude and professionalism. He was disgusted they did not do well his first year and more aggressively tried to win early in the season so they did not get shut out. Of course he got hurt during the year, but he tried to will the team to win. I cannot fault that attitude. It seems this same attitude contributed to his issues this year.

      I think he actions this year were a mistake prompted by the public reaction of the club towards him.

      I hope he gets better and is healthy enough to pitch and show the world he still has it.

    • Kathy C: Thanks so much for your post. That was an exciting night, and I too, wondered what toll it would take. Santana wasn’t effective after that game, which also fueled the speculation. It didn’t help that he’d had arm problems before. Yes, it is hard to pinpoint the game, let alone the pitch, that caused him to unravel. Right now the problem isn’t so much pain as it is weakness. It will take a long time for him to get it back, if ever. I am hoping for the best for him. And, you’re right about Santana pitching for another contract. That’s what’s puzzling about him throwing off the mound that day. Hope to hear from you again.-JD

  3. About Santana and the WBC: If you followed along, very early on Santana said he would do what the Mets wanted. That confirmed for me exactly what I suspected: Santana was saying he wanted to pitch in the WBC only because he didn’t want to disrespect his country. He always intended to honor the Mets’ desires, he just didn’t want to come across as not being patriotic in his native country.

    He couldn’t just say he’s not playing and leave it at that. He had to keep on saying the opposite: That he would like to pitch in the WBC.

    I completely understand that, and have no problem with it.

    • Barry: Thank you for your post. I agree with you on the reasons why Santana wanted to pitch in the WBC. I posted earlier this spring that the problem was he wasn’t taking into consideration the feelings of the Mets and their fan base. And, every time he said he wanted to pitch in the WBC, it put a little more pressure on the organization. That’s not to say the team helped matters by saying he didn’t come to came in his best shape. All this could have been avoided if the Mets and Santana, in a short, joint press conference, announced he wouldn’t pitch. Hope you’ll visit and post again.-JD

  4. If I may ask, why do people persist in blaming lase year’s reinjury on his ankle? He pitched very well for 5 starts. His performance did not decline until July 6th – the game where he had his ankle broken. We are all aware of where his season went after that.It did not “quickly unravel”, as you state. It did not start coming apart until that Cubs game on 7/6. He pitched just as well after the no-hitter as before.

  5. My first sentence should read “on the no-hitter” instead of “on his ankle”. Sorry about that.

    I hate comment sections that don’t let you edit your comment after you post it.

    • Steve: Thank you for your post. You are right, he did pitch well after the no-hitter for awhile. In terms of the phrase “quickly unraveled,” that was in reference to the six-game losing streak as there was no break of effectiveness between those games. Again, thanks for your post and I hope to hear from you throughout the summer.-JD

  6. let’s be realistic, Santana is a great pitcher since we are going to be in first place in June when Santana comes back we’ll stay in first place and win the world serious!

    LET”S GO METS!!!!!!!!