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Johan Santana Could Miss 2011 Season: Why the Mets Ace Will Never Be the Same

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Johan Santana Could Miss 2011 Season: Why the Mets Ace Will Never Be the Same
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

New York Mets star hurler Johan Santana is the anchor of the staff, a leader in the clubhouse and represents the largest annual salary on the payroll.

They depended on him to set the tone and at times carry the team on his back down the stretch. The organization already knew he would miss most, if not all, of the first half of the 2011 MLB season, but uncertainties have now transformed directly into widespread fears.

Reports out of Mets camp and NorthJersey.com’s Steve Popper and Blob Klapisch are now hinting that Santana could miss the entire 2011 season.

Any orthopedic surgeon will tell horror stories of shoulder operations in comparison to those taking place within the elbow. A pitcher is better off having two Tommy John procedures before one rotator cuff tear.

That said, initial word out of New York led us all to believe that this was a fairly status quo recovery—resulting in a fully healthy Johan returning for the stretch run. Santana himself seemed confident in the mapped out timetable.

Now it is possible that all of this will come crashing down before the first pitch of the season whistles across the plate at Citi Field.

Dating back to his trade to Queens following the 2007 season, I had very strong concerns regarding his mechanics and short-arm delivery. It seemed that there was virtually no way that he could hold up over the length of his contract.

The days of this sort of unbridled dominance are long gone for Johan

Three years into the deal, Santana’s already missed an average of 15 percent of his starts each season. In addition, his K/9 dropped from 9.7 in Minnesota to 7.9, 7.9 and 6.5 against less powerful National League lineups.

His dominance has been slipping away for a few years now, all while his baseline ERA looked as solid as ever. Santana had such excellent command, however, that he could overcome his decreasing velocity and movement to consistently pitch well in the NL.

Now the question is will the Mets ace ever be the same? It seems like Santana had plenty of years left in the tank, but he will already be 33 years old before Opening Day 2012.

If Johan does in fact miss the entire 2011 campaign, will he begin the all too familiar fade into mediocrity that many injured pitchers have suffered in their lives beyond 30?

The Mets would have a very serious situation to face head on, as Santana is due $55M guaranteed over the next two years. Considering the financial unrest within the Wilpon family business, he could instantly become the most damaging contract in MLB.

It is hard to believe that the 2012 version of Santana would boast a 91-93 MPH fastball, or even the dynamic movement on the changeup that has made him a world-class pitcher in his career. He has already been forced to limit the use of his slider, and this shoulder setback would virtually eliminate it permanently.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Assuming the reports are true, in which Mets brass believe they’ll be “lucky” if Santana pitches this year, all signs would point to the Mets paying a No. 3 or No. 4 starter like an immortal and unhittable ace.

Their ability to trade Santana in the offseason—or even at next year’s deadline—seem nearly impossible, and the Mets will seemingly have to take one on the chin until 2013.

All area fans have to hope against hope that these reports are premature and incorrect, or they can all but kiss the next two to three years of Mets baseball goodbye.

There is no scenario in my mind that ends with Santana resorting back to his 2008 form, and they would actually be fortunate to get the 24-18 from 2009-2010 over the final two years of his deal.

As a Santana admirer, I would be very pleased to be proven wrong and have to eat my words, but my instincts tell me that we have seen the last of the Johan Santana we have grown to parallel so seamlessly with “consistency.”

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