If you're a Mets fan, it's officially time to panic.
No matter how minor Johan Santana claims his elbow stiffness is, and no matter how "extra, extra, extra careful" manager Jerry Manuel claims he is being by shutting Santana down indefinitely, hearing that the Mets' ace is having arm trouble of any kind is a cause for concern.
Let's face it, any injury that would force Santana to miss an extended period of time in 2009 would severely cripple the Mets' postseason hopes.
Santana is one of the best pitchers in the game today. An argument could be made that he is just as, if not more, valuable than David Wright and Jose Reyes.
While losing one of their star position players would certainly be devastating, the loss of Santana would have just as big of an impact.
Had it not been for a sub-par bullpen, Santana would have won 20 games in 2008. With the addition of J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez, a healthy Santana is all but a shoe in for 20 victories.
After Santana the Mets rotation is full of question marks. John Maine is coming back from injury, Mike Pelfrey needs to prove he can be a consistent starter for a full season, and Oliver Perez needs to find consistency on a start to start basis.
The fifth spot in the rotation is up for grabs. Livan Hernandez looked decent in his two innings of work earlier this week. Freddy Garcia was dreadful and Tim Redding is battling injury woes of his own.
The Mets are looking to rebound from consecutive September collapses. Having a reliable starting pitcher at the front of their rotation was among the only things Mets fans could count on.
It was Santana, with a bum knee, who pitched a complete game, three-hit shutout on the second to last day of the regular season. He single-handedly kept his team in the hunt for a playoff spot while his teammates were mired in a second straight September swoon.
Santana is planning on missing his scheduled start next Tuesday (a start that was already pushed back) and said that while he isn't worried, it may be at least two weeks before he pitches in a spring training game.
His status for opening day is already questionable. The Mets would gladly concede an opening day start for 30 other healthy Santana starts, if the rest allowed him to make them.
The team can insist all they want that shutting Santana down is simply a precaution, but they also need to brace for the worst and consider ways to compensate for time their star pitcher may miss.
Here are some ways the team can try to make up for an active roster without Johan Santana on it.
(These are merely suggestions, some of which may be a bit outside the box, so don't say you weren't warned.)
Bringing back Pedro was all but ruled out after the team signed Livan Hernandez to compete for the fifth starter spot. Pedro, however, plans on pitching in the World Baseball Classic to audition for a spot in a major league rotation.
If the Mets can't count on Santana, bringing back Pedro makes sense as he's proven he can pitch in New York. He would embrace the challenge of replacing Santana, and maybe it's wishful thinking, but I think he would want to prove he has some more magic left in that aging right arm of his.
I mean he can't be worse than Freddy Garcia, can he?
Still a free agent and still unemployed.
Schilling has stated he would be open to a return to baseball after surgery last summer. Filling the shoes of Santana could present Schilling with a terrific opportunity to prove he can still be a front end of the rotation starter.
He's won three championships, isn't afraid of the spotlight, and like him or not, the guy knows how to gut out wins.
He has the socks to prove it!
Okay, so Manny wouldn't pitch, but I know as a Mets fan I would sleep more easily at night knowing that while my starting rotation may be in flux without Santana, adding Ramirez to the middle of the Mets order would ease some of my worries.
Of course the chances are it's only a matter of time before Manny and the Dodgers end their game of hard to get and reunite, however, until he signs the possibility remains plausible.
Mets fans are probably as tired of hearing that name as they are "Moises Alou."
If healthy, however, El Duque might be a serviceable option to plug into the rotation until he inevitably breaks down again. He has proven he can pitch successfully in Flushing (albeit briefly), but he might also like to have the chance to prove he's not finished.
Okay, so I admit none of these options are really all that realistic, and none are all that appealing. (Although if it were up to me. Pedro Martinez would always have a roster spot if he wanted one.) The options I presented, however far-fetched they may seem, simply prove how irreplaceable Johan Santana is to this ball club.
If Santana does miss time I would be inclined to believe Jerry Manuel would look to replace him with the likes of Freddy Garcia, Livan Hernandez, Jonothan Neise, or Tim Redding.
Bottom line, Mets fans, hope and pray that whatever is ailing Santana is as minor as they claim it is.
Of course if Santana is forced to miss significant time, the team wouldn't have to worry about a September collapse. They would have a tough time just putting themselves in a position to pull one off.