Could the New York Mets Get Away with Trading Santana While in Contention?

Tony Marcano@@dctonymarcanoContributor IJuly 2, 2012

No-Han as trade bait? No way.
No-Han as trade bait? No way.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The New York Mets might need to invent a couple of new statistics to measure Johan Santana's 2012 season: BNH and ANH. That is, Before No-Hitter and After No-Hitter, or Before No-Han and After No-Han, if you prefer.

Before he threw the first no-hitter in Mets history, Santana faced a chorus of doubts. Will he be effective after a year off recovering from surgery? Will he be able to go more than six innings at a stretch? Will his fastball still pop? And on and on.

Perhaps, the chorus warbled, it would be best to let Santana go before his value drops into the basement.

The chorus grew quieter as the season progressed and Santana regained his pre-surgery form. Then came the no-no.

It would seem inconceivable that the Mets would think for more than a nanosecond about trading the pitcher who tossed the first no-hitter in team history. But stranger things have happened in the last half-century of Mets baseball.

So just for fun, let's pose the question: Could the Mets get away with trading Santana while the team remains in contention for a playoff berth?

Aside from David Wright, Santana is the roster's most attractive player for other teams. The Mets could demand, and almost certainly get, a bumper crop of proven young talent in exchange for the 33-year-old pitcher.

No one can say how many years Santana has left in his career. The concerns about his surgically-repaired arm have eased considerably, but they haven't completely gone away. If they had, manager Terry Collins wouldn't have twisted himself into a knot in deciding whether to let Santana pursue his no-hitter or pull him from the game when his pitch count topped 100.

The Mets have tried in the past to pick up young players in exchange for their aging superstars, with disastrous results. Steve Henderson, picked up from the Cincinnati Reds in the controversial 1977 Tom Seaver trade, was among the young talents who were supposed to carry the Mets into a new era.

Instead, the Mets spent the next few years languishing in the cellar, with records rivaling the futility of the 1960s. Seaver, meanwhile, went on to pitch the no-hitter he was never able to record for the Mets.

There are, of course, other examples in major league baseball of teams successfully trading older stars for younger prospects. But in most of those cases, the teams that dumped their more experienced players did so because they were rebuilding or were out of the pennant race.

With the Mets battling the Atlanta Braves and the surprising Washington Nationals, that equation doesn't work this season.

It also doesn't work because the starting pitching is precisely why the Mets have remained in contention. The bullpen is among the worst in baseball. The saving grace for the Mets this year is that Santana and R.A. Dickey are consistently pitching into the late innings, sparing the team from relying on shaky relievers.

If the Mets' season had gone as predicted—that is, not well—Santana might very well have been trade bait, even with his no-hitter. But that's an impossible scenario now. If Santana goes, so does any hope the Mets have of staying in the pennant race.

There isn't any other starting pitcher on the market who could rival Santana. At best, the Mets might get a pitcher of equal value, perhaps one a bit younger than Santana. There's no point in doing that, particularly since Santana has emerged as a quiet but effective team leader.

The Mets should have just one mission in trade talks this month: shoring up the bullpen. Any mention of Santana in those talks should be considered a deal-breaker.

Besides, why would the Mets risk their investment in their new home stadium? If the Mets were to trade Santana, the fans would demolish CitiField faster than the wrecking balls that obliterated Shea Stadium.