The Mets entered 2011 fully aware of Johan Santana's shoulder surgery that followed the end of his 2010 season. It was the same surgery that kept Chien-Ming Wang off the mound for nearly two years, but the team was hopeful that Santana could return sometime this year.
Although Santana's strikeout rate dropped significantly since coming to the Mets from the Twins, he had thrown 600.0 innings over 88 starts and produced a 2.85 ERA with a 3.02 strikeout-to-walk ratio. If there was any hope for the team to compete in 2011, it was dependent upon an expeditious return by Santana.
In the middle of January, the news was that Santana would begin a throwing program by spring training, an indication that he would by no means be ready for Opening Day but stood a chance to pitch for the Mets during the season. In March, however, there were some rumblings of a setback in Santana's recovery, and they ultimately turned out to be true. Amidst the uncertainty, Terry Collins dubbed Mike Pelfrey the Opening Day starter, a nice gesture that resulted in a whole bunch of sports writers and Mets fans getting upset when Pelfrey, unsurprisingly, did not pitch like an ace.
As for Santana, the news on his recovery was a series of ups and downs. On May 4, it was reported that Santana was feeling great, as he told the media:
"Obviously, I am not in the position where I can compete right now, but I'm right where I should be. As the medical staff has said, I'm way ahead of everything."
But by the middle of June, the news came out that Santana was unlikely to return until August. That estimate still seemed somewhat within reach when it was reported at the end of July that Santana would make his first rehab start. He made the start, but the next update was that he'd rest for a week with shoulder fatigue. The date was August 4, and it was abundantly clear that the odds of seeing the Mets' best pitcher in the 2011 season were virtually non-existent.
Johan did manage a couple more rehab starts in the minor leagues in September and a few innings of work in the Mets' instructional league just after the season came to an end, but he never got anywhere near an official return. And now, of course, we know that Santana will not pitch in winter ball in an attempt to give his shoulder a rest before gearing up for next season. Like this season, the Mets' chances of real contention will depend largely upon whether or not Santana returns.