New York Mets: 6 Ways a Healthy Johan Santana Changes Everything

Avi Wolfman-ArentCorrespondent IIJanuary 6, 2012

New York Mets: 6 Ways a Healthy Johan Santana Changes Everything

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    Meet the Mets, meet the Mets, step right up and deplete the Mets.

    That's the tenor of things in Queens these days, as stars of the 2006 NLCS squad vanish like so many unfulfilled dreams.

    Jose Reyes in South Florida, Carlos Beltran in St. Louis—bat an eyelash and any remnants of past glory will have gone the way of a Mike Piazza moon shot.

    And yet, through it all, there is good news.

    GM Sandy Alderson confirms that shadow ace Johan Santana should be ready for Opening Day in April, a development that will bolster the rotation and add intrigue to a season that needs it.

    Let's take a look at six ways Santana's return might improve the Mets in 2012 and beyond.

Improves the Pitching Staff

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    The most obvious and immediate consequence of Johan Santana's return is its positive effect on the Mets starting rotation.

    Even with Ike Davis shelved and David Wright wounded, the Mets finished a respectable sixth in the National League in runs scored. Offense wasn't the problem.

    Preventing runs proved trickier, an area where they ranked 13th in the NL and dead last in their division.

    A healthy Santana should buoy those totals, joining Jonathon Niese and Dillon Gee in an improving rotation.

    Even in his down years, Santana's been worth at least 3.5 wins above replacement in each of the past eight seasons (2011 excluded).

    That's the kind of steady production the Mets missed last year.

Makes Other Pitchers Expendable

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    With their ace back, the Mets can look to move one of their veteran arms for infield help or more prospects.

    Mike Pelfrey sticks out as an obvious trade candidate. The former first-round pick is under contract through 2013, just 27 years old and could entice a team seeking rotation depth.

    R.A. Dickey would interest teams even more, though the Mets would need a fatter return for a starting pitcher signed at a good rate through this year with an affordable option for 2013.

    The crown jewel is Jonathon Niese, who they Mets dangled this winter already. Niese's youth, affordability and rising K/BB rate ought to draw plenty of interest. With one southpaw returning, it's possible for the Mets to bid another farewell.

Puts Butts in the Seat

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    With Jose Reyes and his infectious cheer now Miami bound, the Mets are in sore need of a big ticket draw.

    A true ace would be a nice place to start.

    If Santana returns to his pre-surgery form, the Mets will have a great chance to win every fifth day and give fans a great reason to come to the ballpark.

    Like Strasmas in Washington, Santana's turn in the rotation will inject much-needed life into Citi Field.

    It's nice to have a buzz about the ballpark, even if it's only fleeting.

    And who knows? Maybe the enthusiasm will run over into the other four days.

Veteran Presence

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    I've always felt the intangible benefit of having older players on a team just because they're old was a bit overrated.

    But when it comes to baseball I give the notion some credence.

    Over 162 games and six months, you better believe focus wavers and commitment recedes. Having a guy who's done it before makes a difference, however incremental.

    Johan Santana's return as an everyday presence in the clubhouse should help young hurlers like Jenrry Mejia, Dillon Gee and—if they get to New York in 2012—Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler acclimate to life in the big leagues.

    As the staff's most experienced major leaguer, I look for Santana to have a particularly profound impact on fellow southpaw Jonathon Niese.

    Niese needs to develop his changeup—his least-used off-speed pitch in each of his big league seasons—and Santana knows a thing or two about that pitch. A teacher-student relationship between the two could pay big dividends for the Mets.

Spices Up the Trade Deadline

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    As long as David Wright is a New York Met, the franchise will have both feet glued to the hot stove. If the Mets aren't in contention by June, the third baseman's availability should be the story of the 2012 trade deadline.

    But if Johan Santana preforms well in his first months back, he too could make waves. Santana will be just 33 years old in 2012, and pitching-hungry teams will put more stock in a quick move because of his Cy Young pedigree.

    Should the Mets dangle him and agree to eat a good chunk of the $50+ million he's owed over the next three seasons, they could score a considerable prospect haul.

    Paired with Wright, a healthy Santana gives the Mets all sorts of leverage come mid-July. The return those two could generate would give the Mets' rebuilding process serious legs.

Something to Feel Good About

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    Look at that smiling face.

    Isn't that what the New York Mets and their fans need right now?

    A pick-me-up, a feel-good story—something, anything to distract from fives years of disintegration.

    If Johan Santana returns to full-strength, it would give Mets fans something to root for this summer, even if the team doesn't follow suit.

    Sometimes it takes an old hand gutting it out to reinvigorate a team and its fanbase. The positive energy from a Santana comeback can serve as a first step in reversing whatever bad voodoo has settled into Citi Field.

    One good thing before the next, Mets fans. It has to start somewhere.