Nov 02

Mets Gambled And Lost On Johan Santana; End Era By Buying Out Contract

The New York Mets took care of business and officially parted ways with often-injured Johan Santana when they paid a $5.5-million buyout Friday, and the classy left-hander, who always wanted to do more – sometimes to his detriment – did the same and thanked the franchise and its fans for their support.

In a statement, Santana said: “I want to thank the Mets organization, my teammates, and, of course, a big thank you to Mets fans, who have been behind me from day one and stood by me through all the good and bad.’’

SANTANA: Era ends.

SANTANA: Era ends.

It was a noble gesture from Santana, something he didn’t have to do after completion of the six-year, $137.5-million contract that made him the highest-paid Mets’ pitcher.

The Mets have not ruled out bringing back Santana at a low-cost deal – which would be on top of the buyout – and toward that end, the left-hander lobbied on his behalf.

“I am not sure what the future holds, as this is all new to me,’’ Santana continued, “but I have every intention of pitching in 2014 and beyond and I am certainly keeping all my options open.’’

After losing in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS and kicking away a seven-game lead with 17 games remaining in 2007, and in dire need of pitching, the Mets gambled big on Santana. They sent four prospects to Minnesota – one of them turning out to be All-Star outfielder Carlos Gomez – to acquire the already damaged left-hander. Then they signed him at the time to the richest contract in franchise history.

Santana became available because both the Yankees and Red Sox backed off, so in essence the Mets were bidding against themselves, and arguably could have had him for less. Subsequently, they issued a contract they didn’t have to at that price. Clearly, they mis-read the market. The deal turned out to symbolize then-GM Omar Minaya’s tenure that included a run of lucrative, underachieving contracts.

Outside a 15-7 record with a league-leading 2.53 ERA in 34 starts in 2008, his first season with the Mets, Santana never completed a full year in New York and didn’t pitch at all in 2011 and 2013 because of shoulder injuries. If a full season is considered 34 starts, Santana left 95 starts on the table. That is more glaring than his production of 46-34, a 3.18 ERA and the only no-hitter in franchise history.

That no-hitter came in just his 12th start after rehabbing from shoulder surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule. To this day, manager Terry Collins laments letting him throw 134 pitches.

Ironically, it was a tainted no-hitter because a blown call on what should have been an extra-base hit for Carlos Beltran was ruled a foul ball. If that call is made correctly, then Santana doesn’t throw that many pitches, then, who really knows?

Santana made only 10 more starts for the Mets before he was shut down in August of 2012. In spring training of 2013, in an angered response to GM Sandy Alderson’s comments he didn’t report in shape, Santana went against his prescribed rehab routine and without Collins’ knowledge, threw off the mound and aggravated the injury.

In another dose of irony, the pitcher often fueled by pride was done in by the same. Santana re-tore the capsule and underwent a second surgery.

To this day, Santana never acknowledged his mistake of throwing off the mound, and Anderson never admitted whether his dig at the left-hander’s condition was meant as motivation and backfired.

Either way, at least publicly, both sides are open for a return. But, don’t bet on it.

Jun 15

Johan Santana Makes Appearance; Reminder Of Deal Lost

Johan Santana made an appearance, perhaps for the last time, to the New York Mets’ clubhouse Friday. Maybe it was to say good-bye to teammates or pick up a few things. Perhaps it was to get a Matt Harvey autograph. Maybe the Mets needed him to sign a few papers before he gets the last of the $31 million owed him.

No one can ever doubt Santana’s work ethic or determination on the mound, but when all the numbers are added, one can’t say the Mets got their $137.5-million’s worth. Or, should I say $143-million’s worth when the 2014 buyout is considered?

SANTANA: At one time there was a smile. (AP)

SANTANA: At one time there was a smile. (AP)

Yes, they did get the franchise’s only no-hitter last season, but a tainted one because it was the product of a blown call. But, that night also cost the Mets the rest of Santana’s career because Terry Collins wrongly kept him in to throw 134 pitches.

There were a few more good starts after, but Santana hit a wall and lost his last five decisions before he was shut down because of injury for the third time in his four seasons with the Mets. And, that  DOESN’T include 2011 and this year, in which he didn’t pitch at all because of a shoulder injury.

To be technical, you can also throw in 2014, when the Mets will pay him to go away and rehab on their dime while he attempts a comeback.

For all that money, Santana only had one season in which he made all his starts, and that was his first, in 2008, when he was 16-7 and worked 234.1 innings. It wasn’t a sign of things to come.

That was the year the Mets faded in the stretch to lose the division on the final day to the Philadelphia Phillies. The previous season, the Mets lost a seven-game lead with 17 to play because their pitching collapsed. They also lost on the final day in a loss always known as the Tom Glavine Not Devastated Game.

Santana was supposed to prevent a reoccurrence. He did not, but to be fair, Santana threw a masterpiece in Game 161 on an injured knee to give the Mets a chance in the season finale.

Santana’s effort was never in question as it was with Oliver Perez, nor did he fail to produce when healthy, as was the case with Jason BayStill, his contract falls in the grave disappointment if not bust category. What can be called into question was Santana’s judgment when he forced the issue in spring training out of pride by throwing unauthorized mound session in a snit in response to Sandy Alderson’s comments about him not being in shape.

Even at the time of the deal an argument can be made the Mets overpaid in terms of prospects given up and salary because they misjudged the market and bid against themselves.

At the time, the Yankees and Red Sox were in hot pursuit of Santana, but Minnesota kept jacking up the prospect price to the point where both opted out. The Mets, who weren’t on the Twins’ radar, suddenly were in the game, but as the only players.

The Mets surrendered prospects Deolis Guerra, Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey. Gomez had moments of production, but not stardom. If nothing else, he would be playing in today’s Mets outfield. As for Humber, he pitched a perfect game not tainted by an umpire’s call.

After the deal was agreed to, there was the matter of working out a contract and the Mets went high, six-years, on a pitcher with a previous shoulder injury and a mountain of innings. Even had they gone less in terms of years and money, Santana had to accept if he wanted out of Minnesota because he had nowhere else to go as the Twins wouldn’t have come close.

The Mets had to know it wouldn’t end well, but gambled Santana might give them an October before breaking down. It was a gamble they would lose.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Mar 28

Santana Hurts Shoulder; Career Could Be Over

The bleak news concerning Johan Santana turned black this afternoon when the Mets announced the veteran left-hander would likely miss the season and could see the end of his career after a probable re-tear of the anterior capsule in his pitching shoulder.

Santana was attempting a comeback following surgery, Sept. 2, 2010, but hasn’t responded following nearly two years of rehabilitation. After throwing off the mound without the Mets’ knowledge, March 3, the 34-year-old was shut down with weakness in his shoulder.

SANTANA: Will we see this pose again?

SANTANA: Will we see this pose again?

Santana returned to New York where he was given a MRI, and team physician Dr. David Altchek at the Hospital of Special Surgery determined the diagnosis.

“A second surgery is a strong possibility,’’ general manager Sandy Alderson said in a conference call.

If so, it might mean close to another two years of rehabilitation, which would undoubtedly end his career.

Santana is in the final guaranteed season of a six-year, $137.5 million contract . He will make $25.5 million in salary with a $5.5 million buyout.

Alderson said the Mets prepared their rotation with the idea the two-time Cy Young Award winner and four-time All-Star would go on the disabled list. Jeremy Hefner will take his spot in the rotation. Alderson said the Mets don’t have plans to promote highly-touted prospect Zack Wheeler.

Wheeler, who is slated to begin the season at Triple-A Las Vegas, expressed his sympathy on his Twitter account: “Sad to hear about Johan. Got to know him this spring. Awesome awesome guy. Stinks to see it happen to him. Nothing but the best on recovery.”

There is no timetable for Wheeler’s promotion, but the Mets don’t figure to bring him up until mid-June, thereby extending his free-agent and Super Two status.

Santana signed with the Mets during the winter of 2007, which followed a season in which the team blew a seven-game lead with 17 games remaining, citing a lack of strong starting pitching.

The Yankees and Red Sox were after him, but both deemed Minnesota’s asking price too high, so the Twins turned to the Mets. At the time, former Mets general manager Omar Minaya said “Santana fell back to us,’’ in explaining the acquisition of a franchise pitcher for prospects Deolis Guerra, Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey.

Santana started 34 games for the Mets in 2008, his only full season with the franchise. Every other year was cut short by injury or ended with surgery.

After rehabbing during the winters of 2010 and 2011, Santana returned to the majors last year with initial success, including a 134-pitch no-hitter. There was speculation that high pitch count contributed to his shoulder weakness and later that summer he lost a career-high six games before going on the disabled list in August.

The Mets never conceded the high pitch count was a contributing factor, but instead attributed it to his rigorous rehab work, and a sprained ankle and lower-back injury that ended his season.

The Mets knew Santana was to lighten his off-season routine last winter, but Alderson said the pitcher wasn’t in top shape when he reported to spring training. That prompted an angry Santana to throw off the mound despite Alderson saying he was at least ten days away.

“Johan has had an exceptional career,’’ Alderson said of the pitcher with a career 139-78 record and 3.20 ERA. “We all hope that career will continue.’’

That’s unlikely now.

Dec 23

Nationals making more noise … Mets remain quiet.

I don’t know much about the prospects the Nationals are sending to Oakland for Gio Gonzalez. What I do know is adding Gonzalez makes them considerably more improved, and that includes better than the Mets.

If what is reported is true, that the Mets wouldn’t part with Jon Niese and Ike Davis then that makes a degree of sense because with what is left it isn’t good enough for Gonzalez to carry. Then again, if I were Oakland I wouldn’t deal Gonzalez for a package that includes two players on the mend.

The essence of this trade reveals a key Mets’ weakness, and that’s a lack of depth in the minor leagues that could be used in trades. For the past few years, one of their biggest chips was Fernando Martinez, but injuries have slowed his career to little more than a crawl.

Do you remember when the Mets were telling us about their wealth of outfield prospects in Martinez, Lastings Milledge and Carlos Gomez? Kind of makes you think when they tout what’s down below now that we really don’t know.

It has been an interesting winter so far for other teams, including St. Louis, which will add Carlos Beltran for two years at $26 million. Beltran won’t make them forget Albert Pujols, but at least the Cardinals are attempting to move forward.

The Mets will add a few minor pieces between now and spring training, but nothing that will prompt anybody to pick up phone and order tickets.

Here we are, a couple of days before Christmas and the weather is warm enough for Opening Day. When I think about the promise and excitement Opening Day is supposed to have, I realize we won’t feel that way at Citi Field for several more years.

Sad really.

May 14

Will Martinez ever make it?

Fernando Martinez is 22, still young enough in the sport where he’s graded most on potential. However, the past few years have been rough on his body and he’s lost more gams due to injury than anybody his age should have the right to.

MARTINEZ: A glimpse into what was supposed to be.

At one time Martinez was part of a group of three Mets outfielders who were going to race their way to stardom. Lastings Milledge, Carlos Gomez and Martinez were three raw talents blessed with speed, quickness and the potential – there’s that word again – for power.

They represented a bright future for the Mets, young, athletic and talented. They would be something to see, and teams were always rebuffed when they called. Reportedly, the Mets said no to Manny Ramirez for the cost of Milledge.

However, the opportunities given Milledge and Gomez – especially the former – didn’t pan the the Mets relented and Milledge was sent to Washington for Brian Schneider and Ryan Church, and Gomez was part of the package that brought in Johan Santana.

With Santana’s injury, there’s nothing left to show for the trade. Once one of the top prospects in the majors, Martinez isn’t even one of the top five Mets’ prospects. Times have changed.

Martinez, called up Friday night as a patch in the Mets’ outfield, hit a two-run, pinch homer to remind us once again what all the fuss was about. But, did he show us a glimpse into the future or into what was supposed to be?