Johan Santana Shoulder Injury Raises Questions

New York Mets starting pitcher Johan Santana throws a pitch to the Colorado Rockies in the fourth inning of their MLB National League baseball game in New York, August 12, 2010. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

Well, its that time of the season. Johan Santana has once again, for the third season in a row, been shut down and will need surgery during the off season, this time on his left shoulder. A suitable punctuation to a season highlighted by lackluster play, managerial blunders, and an overall lack of organizational accountability. Of course, this type of grim reality for the ace of a pitching staff can only exist within one franchise, the New York Mets.

Along with agony and disappointment, news of Santana’s most recent injury raises a lot of questions:

Why does the Mets’ medical staff continue to be inept?

Since being acquired prior to the ’08 season, Santana has had some kind of injury/surgery every year. First it was his knee issue, last year he had bone chips in his elbow. What other star player in the league has experienced this type of string? I can’t think of any off the top of my head. I’m no doctor, but I would have to imagine that part of correcting an injury is identifying the measures to prevent future problems. By now, I would have expected that the medical and training staffs have come up with a plan for protecting Santana’s arm. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. This apparent ineptitude has affected other players on the team as well. You have to figure that free agents around the league are probably wary of exploring opportunities with the Mets because of their seemingly shabby and, for lack of a better word, mysterious medical staff.

What kind of pitcher will Santana be when he returns?

I want to believe he can still be the ace of the staff but I just can’t be sure of what kind of expectations to have. Santana has logged a ton of innings over the course of his career and there is no telling what kind of impact this surgery will have for the long term. From what I understand, shoulder problems are more complicated and difficult to correct than elbow issues so only time will tell how Santana will recover. Santana embodies the characteristics of a true competitor and hopefully his resiliency can overcome the hardships of this type of setback. After all, Santana has proven to still be a top of the line pitcher despite a decline in his velocity. I feel there is certainly reason to believe that following a successful procedure along with proper rehab, Santana can return to form.

Should Santana’s injury prompt the front office to improve the rotation?

Its unclear whether or not Santana will be ready for the start of the 2011 campaign, which in itself, is going to be a major point of concern for the organization. The rest of the rotation is expected to be Mike Pelfrey, Jon Niese, R.A. Dickey (hopefully he is retained), and possibly Dillon Gee/Jenrry Mejia. Pelfrey has gone through another turbulent season of ups and downs. Niese is still inexperienced but has shown signs of maturation this year. Dickey has been the bulldog and the most pleasant surprise of not only the pitching staff, but the whole team. Gee and Mejia are clearly unproven. At this point, although his potential has a high ceiling, Mejia is still just a “thrower” with very pedestrian secondary pitches. I expect him to start next season in Buffalo. Regardless of Santana’s status, these guys are all going to be counted on for major contributions.

I don’t think acquiring a stud pitcher is the right path to take for whoever the general manager is next season. The method of “plugging holes” has proven unsuccessful with several attempts. Trying to outbid other teams for Cliff Lee would be both unwise and unrealistic, as the Mets already have so much money committed to Santana and because signing him to a big deal would prove that ownership has not learned from its mistakes. Even though Santana has been a superb, top of the line pitcher for the Mets since he was brought in, if this injury proves to be the mark of his deterioration, his contract will be looked at as another mistake to add to an ever-growing list.

In terms of starting pitchers on the free agent market, with the exception of Lee, no name really jumps up at you. A few pitchers of note on the list include Vicente Padilla, Jeremy Bonderman, Hiroki Kuroda, and Javy Vazquez. One guy I’ve always been intrigued by who haunts the Mets, Bronson Arroyo, is likely to have his option picked up by the Reds for next year.

Bottom Line

In a perfect world, the Mets would be able to land a deal centered around the likes of Rays’ pitchers Matt Garza and/or James Shields, however, this is easier said than done. Worst case scenario, the Mets will be giving Oliver Perez the chance to earn a spot in the rotation in spring training. Lets all hold our breath, keep our fingers crossed, and hope that the 2011 starting rotation for the Mets can avoid being an embarrassment.

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