The highlight of the day in Mets’ camp was Johan Santana’s first mound session of the spring; 20 pain-free pitches in chilly Port St. Lucie.
“This is my first time in a while, but it was fine,” Santana told reporters in Florida, where the weather has been brisk and rainy. “I don’t think it was my best or anything, but it’s Day 1. You’ve got to start at some point.
“Today was a beginning for me. … You always worry about how you feel and everything, but at the same time I was just trying to get my job done and not trying to overdo things out there.’’
Not surprisingly, the Mets’ plan is to treat Santana with kid gloves. He needs to throw again and pitch batting practice before getting into an exhibition game. Usually the first exhibition is 30 pitches or two innings, and there’s no reason to think the Mets would deviate. Normally, pitchers make six starts and up to 30 innings during spring training.
The Mets are scheduled to pay Santana $31 million this year, including a $5.5 million option. A $25 million option for 2014 kicks in if he throws 215 innings this summer, and there’s no way the Mets will let him approach that figure.
The Mets are in a difficult position because they need to move on from Santana’s contract, yet at the same time if he were healthy and productive it gives them a chance to have a competitive season. Ideally, the Mets would like to deal him, but the innings clause applies to any team that trades for him and that would make him more than just a rental.
Santana didn’t pitch in 2011 as he was rehabbing from shoulder surgery. His first season with the Mets in 2008 was his only one with the team where he made all 34 starts. He ended last season on the disabled list with lower back inflammation.
In looking at the Santana trade, it is clear the Mets overpaid, both in terms of prospects – although none panned out to have successful major league careers – and obviously in terms of salary. In looking at a trade, one must also consider the circumstances at the time.
In 2008, the Mets were coming off a historic season in which their bullpen collapsed and they blew a seven-game lead with 17 to play. The previous season they lost the NLCS in seven games to St. Louis. In both seasons their pitching was suspect and a workhorse was needed.
Both the Yankees and Boston were after him, but pulled out when Minnesota’s asking price was deemed to high. Then GM Omar Minaya said Santana fell back to them and he did because there was no other competition.