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The Stakes for Santana and Mets

Posted By Howard Megdal On August 17, 2012 @ 12:11 pm In Today's Mets headlines | Comments Disabled

We all know what Johan Santana has done this season, I trust. The dominant start to his season, punctuated by a no-hitter. That was a 2.38 ERA through 11 starts, if you were wondering.

Then, the significant fall, a 7.98 ERA since. Time on the disabled list, questions about his ability to even help the team, let alone dominate.

His start last Saturday night was disastrous. And if he has many more like that, the Mets are probably going to shut him down.

But think about how important a start like tonight is, in context of the team as a whole.

Proving he can still provide a viable option in 2013, considering he’ll make $25.5 million, is important itself. Add in the likelihood that the Mets can’t add much salary this winter, and his importance increases exponentially, as a person who will be under contract for certain, and one who has at least a past track record of monumental success.

But wait, there’s more. Shutting him down doesn’t mean that Santana is ruled out for 2013. But it does mean the Mets need some kind of backup plan, if at all possible. The other returning starters, as of now, are Jonathon Niese, R.A. Dickey, Dillon Gee and Matt Harvey. Chris Young is a free agent, and there’s just no way to know what Gee will be capable of, with that blood clot likely caused by repeated use, the very thing that pitching is.

Obviously, there’s epic levels of excitement for Harvey, and justifiably so. How consistently good he’ll be over a full season remains to be seen. But let’s be optimistic, and call him as a plus in the rotation a given. Let’s even call Niese a given, though he still needs to finish a season strong for the first time in 2012. And Dickey is about as much a given as there is, with the caveats that he’s 38 and has no real comps in his past.

That still leaves the Mets to fill two rotation holes with Santana, Gee, perhaps a Young return, Jeremy Hefner, and Zack Wheeler, a large talent who is currently struggling at Triple-A.

If Santana is Santana, that’s a potentially very good rotation. If he is merely serviceable, that leaves the Mets Gee/Hefner to use in the fifth spot. If he’s not available for large portions of 2012, then it is hoping Gee can be the fourth starter, with inventory pretty thin at Hefner and beyond. Maybe they give Jenrry Mejia a shot, though by playing games with him again, he would be pitching many more innings as a starter than he ever has. Collin McHugh? Consider me a skeptic on his transition for now.

Point is, a Santana shutdown means a sensible organization will need to plan as if he isn’t part of the rotation, and hope for a pleasant surprise. That’s what they should have done this season, had finances been stable. But a healthy Santana, finishing strong, cures a lot of ills.

So there’s a lot riding on tonight for Johan Santana and the Mets. Good to see meaningful games in August, I suppose.

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