Mets fans are quickly realizing that the 2010 version of Johan Santana is not the same pitcher that the team traded a proverbial “bucket of balls” for back in 2008. After Santana and the Mets agreed to a 6-year, $137.5 million extension following the trade that winter, the left-handed ace went 16-7 with an ERA of 2.53. Santana had a Cy Young caliber season that year, he could have easily had 4-5 more wins, if not for a horrendous bullpen that ultimately led to that team’s demise.
Fast-forward to the present, and it is plain to see that Santana is performing like anything but an ace. Coming off an injury shortened season in 2009, the wear and tear on Santana’s elbow is certainly showing, especially coming off surgery. The 31-year-old’s velocity is down considerably, which lessens the effect of his signature out pitch, his change-up. Combine the drop in velocity of his fastball with poor location of seemingly all of his pitches recently, and you have the make-up of a very hittable and predictable Major League pitcher.
With Santana’s 2010 campaign so far in mind, it reminds us of the importance of developing young pitchers within the organization (a big-market organization, at that), so the need for acquiring high end starting pitchers down the road isn’t as great.
The Mets signed Santana to that huge 6-year contract extension when he was 29 years old. It’s not fair to say Santana wasn’t worth it because, at the time, he was the best pitcher in baseball. The fact is though, some of those 6 years will not fall within his prime and we are starting to realize that at this juncture. The same issue will arise this coming off-season when Cliff Lee explores free agency. Lee will demand a deal that will likely take him into his late 30’s, past his already tardy prime.
Now onto my point concerning the importance of developing young starting pitchers within the organization. Look at Mike Pelfrey and Jon Niese. A 26-year-old right-hander and a 23-year-old left-hander respectively, these two have made leaps and bounds within the organization and their development looks like it will pay dividends in the present and future for the Mets. Seeing these types of pitchers grow up, mature, and experience success is extremely rewarding for any franchise. The success of these two pitchers this season are certainly reasons for the Mets to be reluctant to deal a pitcher like Jenrry Mejia, although the addition of a Cliff Lee or Roy Oswalt are extremely tempting.
It’s demoralizing for any Mets fan to now realize where Johan Santana is in his career. He can throw 90 now, not 94. He must work on and integrate his less-than-stellar slider into his repertoire. He also must improve the location of all of his pitches if he wishes to return to form. We’re looking at a pitcher who must make a handful of adjustments.
Do I believe that Santana still has what it takes to help the Mets win baseball games? Sure. Do I still feel as though Santana is the pitcher the Mets can count on to pitch a shutout when they need it? Not quite.
After about a season and a half of great success, I fear that Santana’s best days are behind him with the Mets. If Santana cannot turn his season around, it will further prove the importance of developing talented young pitchers for the Mets and retaining them long-term. All in all, we as Mets fans must hope that this is not another Pedro Martinez case/contract and that our team gets more out of this high profile ace. Let’s be optimistic as a fan base for once and believe that our ace’s arm will come alive once again.