An Ace in Queens: Can Johan Santana Adjust to New York?

Andrew SchiffAnalyst IFebruary 7, 2008

Surprise, surprise.

Only last month I had written an article on how the New York Mets didn't have the prospects or the depth to land the big prize, Minnesota Twins lefty Johan Santana.

I also added that General Manager Omar Minaya also made some short-sighted moves limiting the club's ability to ad the ace from Venezuala.  

Boy, was I wrong.

By a process of elimination, the Mets were able to make the deal. Trading propects outfielder Carlos Gomez, pitchers Philip Humber, Deolis Guerra and Kevin Mulvey, the Mets did not give up prize outfielder Fernando Martinez or even shortstop Jose Reyes, whom the Twins asked for in talks in November.

First, the Mets are only one of a handful of teams that could afford Santana's price tag.

His asking rate eliminated most of Major League baseball, except the free-spending New York Yankees, the prospect-rich Boston Red Sox and the Mets.

The defending champion Red Sox, fresh from their triumph over the Colorado Rockies in last year's World Series, had no serious motivation, other than to keep him away from their dreaded rivals, to acquire Santana and give up some of the young players who helped Boston win their second title in four years.

No longer under the leadership of the ambitious and star-struck owner, George Steinbrenner, the Yankees were more interested in signing veterans like Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez. Somehow, the Bronx Bombers lost their typical ambition and decided to go with the young arms.

That left the Mets as the sole club vying for Santana's services.

When Johan Santana contacted the Twins and told them to get a deal done, trade talks intensified.

After three days of intense contract negotiations, which included an extension granted by the Twins and Major League Baseball, Johan Santana is now a New York Met. 

The question is, however, what impact the pressure of playing in New York will have on the great ace?

Considered by many to be the best pitcher in baseball, Santana has always been a media friendly personality and has handled post-season pressure well.

But, there is no way to truly gage how quickly, or how well, if at all, he will adjust to New York.

Santana is a notoriously slow starter. What will happen if he is 0-2 in April?

How will the impatient New York media and Mets fans react to Santana then? Conversely, how will Santana react to the media and the fans when things aren't going smoothly?

Many a new player, even Hall of Fame caliber players, have typically gone through an adjustment period, or have not adjusted at all. 

Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez and Mike Piazza had their difficulties initially and eventually came around to embrace New York.

This is not, however, the case with every new arrival to the city. While Clemens, Rodriguez and Piazza struggled at first, Pedro Martinez handled the transition with aplomb.

Once again, it is difficult to predict how someone will react. 

When Bobby Bonilla signed with the Mets back in the early 1990s, everyone expected, given his outgoing personality and Bronx background, that he would be a huge success in the city.

Bonilla put up decent numbers, but he failed to click with the New York scene and was ultimately moved, although he returned for a year in 1998.

John Olerud, whose former Toronto Blue Jay manager Cito Gasten believed would be virtually criushed by the New York media, thrived in the city and had some of his better years in Queens.

Whether Santana succeeds ultimately in New York will depend on thick skin and support of management, his teammates and even the fans. And, of course, his talent.

Mets' fans are notoriously more patient with their players than Yankee fans. When Piazza was acquired by the Mets, fans at first reacted badly to Piazza's slow start.

Soon though, there was a collective realization that everyone had to get behind him and that his success was tied to the ballclub's future. That's when the fans began to support him. Soon Piazza became a hit, in more ways than one.

There will be more expectations on Santana. After the Mets' brutal seven game slide with seventeen games remaining in 2007, the ace lefty will be expected to lift New York to the playoffs and beyond.

As Met announcer Bob Murphy used to say toward the end of close games, "Fasten your seatbelts."


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