Though it may be hard to believe, Johan Santana is entering the final year of his massive six-year, $137.5 million contract, signed with the New York Mets following a February 2008 trade from the Minnesota Twins.
While there is a $25 million team option for 2014, it is clear to anyone who has watched General Manager Sandy Alderson these past three offseasons that the team will not be picking up the option, which leaves two realistic scenarios for 2013: Santana is traded to a contender in July (probably around the time Zack Wheeler is called up), or Santana finishes out the season as a Met and leaves as a free agent.
The likelihood of either scenario depends almost entirely on two factors: his health and his performance. Since health is nearly impossible to predict without a medical degree, let’s focus on the second factor.
Pitcher A: 59 IP, 2.75 ERA, 9.15 K/9, 2.43 BB/9, 15:4 K:BB, .219 Opp.Avg.
Pitcher B: 57.2 IP, 7.08 ERA, 8.02 K/9, 3.61 BB/9, 51:23 K:BB, .288 Opp.Avg
In case you haven’t figured this out yet, Pitcher A is Santana before the no-hitter, Pitcher B is Santana after the no-hitter (his stats from the no-no are included in B’s stats). While the strikeout rate declined slightly (though it still remained solid), the walk rate ballooned by over a full walk per nine innings, and the ERA skyrocketed by over 4.25 runs.
It has been widely speculated that one of the main factors causing Santana’s production to go from David Cone circa 1991 in April and May to Matt Wise circa 2008 from June to August 27, when he was shut down, was the 134 pitches he threw during the June 1st no-hitter, but his June statistics were still very good, which doesn’t support that theory: 7.63 K/9, .180 Opp. Avg., 1.08 WHIP, 2.77 ERA (of course those stats look better because of the no-no).
Blaming the decline on one start where Santana threw too many pitches gives fans hope that he may return to form in 2013, after all, his shoulder has had plenty of time to recover.
The more likely cause of his decline was the sprained ankle that landed him on the disabled list in July and the back inflammation which ended Santana’s season prematurely in August.
If this is the reason for Santana’s struggles, 2013 might end up being a troublesome year for him. If Santana is unable to stay healthy, as was the case in 2012, the production will not be there and Alderson will have a difficult if not impossible time trying to deal him at the deadline, which this article in The Record seems to imply is the goal of the organization.
If baseball savant Bill James’s algorithm is reasonably accurate, the Mets should have no problems accomplishing that goal. James’ model projects Santana to make 27 starts, post an 11-9 record, a 3.50 ERA, 7.88 K/9, 2.97 BB/9 in 2013.
This projection may be a little optimistic, but it would not be unreasonable for Santana to have an ERA in the 4.00 range and 11-12 wins when the season is all said and done.
If Santana is on pace for anything reasonably close to that stat line by the July 31st trade deadline, the Mets should be getting plenty of calls from hopeful playoff teams looking to solidify their rotation.
It would be unfair to expect Alderson to pull off another steal of a trade, as he did by trading Carlos Beltran for Wheeler or R.A. Dickey and co. for Travis D’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, and co., but you can bet that if Santana is traded, the team should get some nice talent in return.
The Mets are currently in a rebuilding mode, gearing up for success in 2014 and beyond. If Santana can return to some semblance of his old self, as he did from April – June of last year, he will play a big role in forming the next young core of players.
It goes without saying that this is a best-case scenario for both Santana and the Mets, and is completely dependent not only on Santana’s health, but his on-field performance. If he performs poorly, the return in a trade will be diminished or he will be untradeable, and will pitch the rest of the season with the Mets then head out into the free agency market.
There are many questions that surround Santana in 2013, but one thing that is a given is it will be his last season in orange and blue.