Renegotiating Johan Santana's Contract

Mike Stobe

If the Mets need to find a couple of extra pennies for the 2013 budget renegotiating with Johan Santana could provide a lot of flexibility.

When the season ended there were players on the 2013 New York Mets with big contracts. Jason Bay is gone, and while you might be able to persuade David Wright to make a little less in 2013 if you replace the option year with a new deal, it's not going to make the kind of dent you can by doing something with Johan Santana's contract.

He's owed $25 million in 2013 plus a $5.5 million buyout for 2014, and a lot depends on what he feels he is worth over the next couple of years. Does he think he can get a three-year, $40 million deal or better after this season? Does he think he's going to be as good as he was in his prime and the Mets will pick up his option? Would Santana, or the Players Association for that matter, allow the Mets to renegotiate the deal? Santana probably expects to stay healthy and pitch a full and successful season next year, but he might be willing, or his agent might persuade him to be willing, to hedge his bets against another abbreviated season leading to him making peanuts in 2014.

A three-year, $45-50 million type deal would give him another $15-20 million dollars and two more guaranteed years while allowing the Mets to save $10 million dollars in 2013 that could be applied to other areas of need. By 2014 Jason Bay's money comes off the books, bringing additional payroll flexibility, and with any luck a successful 2013 for both the Mets and the Wilpons leads to a higher payroll anyway. This solution would create more flexibility for both this year and next, something that might not be possible without a restructuring of Santana's deal.

This only makes any sense if the Mets believe that Johan Santana will be worth anything at all in the next three years. He clearly was valuable for the first half of his season in 2012, and then tailed off in a fairly disastrous way in the second half. I think the arguments about the long rehab period and missing all of 2011 have merit, and that he'll be a successful pitcher next year. Never underestimate the power of rest. While you can hardly have too much pitching and the Mets could use the leverage in 2013, it'd be a bad idea to invest in two more years of a pitcher if you don't think he's a near lock to be one of the five best options over that time period. Could Johan Santana and his shoulder be done?

After watching Santana for the past four years I wouldn't bet against him. I wouldn't expect him to pitch as well as he did for the first three years as a Met, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him post a 3.50 ERA with a couple of clunkers but also with a few dominating performances mixed in. Let's not forget he threw two consecutive dominating complete games in 2012, including the no-hitter of the playoff-bound St. Louis Cardinals. His numbers through June, after more than a year off from pitching to major league hitters, were very good. The last 18 innings were really really bad, but they seem to be a factor of the lingering injuries he had during the season. One of those, the ankle injury, was inflicted by Reed Johnson stepping on his foot at first base. That could've happened to anyone at anytime and it seems unfair to penalize Santana's future for it. In other words, it was a fluke injury and not symptomatic of greater physical deterioration. Moreover, I certainly don't think we should be counting the innings until his contract runs out based on the poor finish he had in 2012.

It seems clear that Johan Santana can still get batters out successfully. What's less certain is his health. He has yet to finish a season with the Mets in which he hasn't been hurt. Injured or not, seasons like 2008 and 2010 are well worth whatever you can pay him. Even the 166 innings in 2009 are probably worth close to my proposed deal of $15 million a year or so. The question, then, is how much you can trust his health, and if it's worth committing to him for two more years beyond 2013. Freeing up $10 million dollars for next season would seem sufficiently valuable to the Mets that it'd be worth taking the risk that Johan Santana can contribute to the team's success beyond this year.

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