While basking in the glow of Johan Santana's historic no-hitter, I can't help but wonder: At what point and under what conditions does the 33-year-old Santana become more valuable to Sandy Alderson as trade bait?
I haven't seen anyone else raise this issue the way it came up early and often with Jose Reyes. Probably because unlike Reyes, who was going to be a prime free agent, Santana is still under contract through next season with a team option for 2014, and until now his shoulder surgery made his health even more questionable than that of the team's former shortstop.
But with the way Santana is pitching, is it time to consider what the Mets could get for him?
While Santana has never quite been with the Mets the same Cy Young winner he was in Minnesota, he certainly hasn't been bad in a New York uniform. He has given the Mets one excellent season (2008), two good but not great ones (2009, 2010), and one injury washout (2011).
This year we've been witness to a remarkable comeback. As of today, Santana is 10th in the majors in WAR (1.8), 9th in FIP (2.72), 6th in ERA (2.38), and despite his decreased velocity and pitch count limits he ranks 10th in strikeouts. For those who like win probability, Santana is also 17th in WPA.
As a fan, I want to simply appreciate all this. Santana is pitching like an ace, and it has been a thing to behold.
As a skeptic, I have to wonder whether he can keep this up. At 33, Santana is arguably past his prime but certainly not old. Will that shoulder of his hold up? No way of knowing. With a BABIP so far of .253, perhaps Santana will eventually move closer to his career mark of .274 in that category, but I don't see anything else that jumps out at me as a red flag for significant regression.
I'd love to imagine a rotation that has Santana, Dickey, Niese, Harvey, and Wheeler in it, but those latter two are likely more than a year away. What kind of pitcher will Santana be then? Will his value ever be as high again as it is now? If he continues to pitch like an ace, well, true aces are difficult to come by. Still, I think Alderson would be foolish if he isn't at least entertaining the thought of Santana's long-term value and what would be a good, smart return for him. (Let it also be noted that Santana has a $25.5 million contract for 2013 and the option is for another $25 million, so any suitor would need deep pockets, or the Mets would need to eat some of that salary.)
Of course, Santana may have made Alderson's calculus that much more complicated by tossing the Mets' first no-hitter. How can you trade that player without upsetting both fans and the New York press? Yet, if you're Alderson, how long can you wait before the chance to sell high has come and gone? If the Mets won't be serious World Series contenders for at least another few years, what do you get by keeping Santana? (The same, I suppose, could be said about David Wright, who will turn 30 in December, but in short I'd argue Santana has never been the face of the franchise in the way his teammate at third has.)
I'll end on this question: If the Mets were to consider trading Santana, either this season or the next, what value would you want to see in return for him?