Even before he was traded to the Mets, I had always been a fan of Johan Santana from afar. With a cousin who's a die-hard Twins fan, it certainly wasn't difficult for me to keep tabs on arguably the best pitcher in the game from 2002 to 2007. In that span, Santana won two Cy Young awards, posted a 3.22 ERA, and had outstanding strikeout and walk rates, and the Twins — a perennial contender with a very low payroll — were an easy American League team to like.
So when Santana was acquired by the Mets before the 2008 season, I was thrilled. The Mets hadn't given up much, if anything, in terms of players to acquire him, and I didn't have any problems with the astronomical contract the Mets gave him in order to make the trade happen. Johan was the best pitcher in the game, dammit, and the Mets had just missed the playoffs by one game a few months earlier — this just one season after they came up just one game short of making the World Series.
My lack of apprehension about the long-term, big-money deal that Santana signed when he came to Queens was perhaps a result of two things: my less-developed knowledge of baseball contracts and the Mets' seemingly limitless budget. If the Mets hadn't been forced into major payroll budget cuts over the past couple of seasons, it's hard to say whether or not I'd now be as opposed as I am to deals like the one that Santana received back in 2008.
Anyways, the point here is that all of that hype and excitement about my favorite team trading for one of my favorite players in the game has made watching Santana's tenure with the Mets all the more difficult to watch.
Sure, 2008 went well for Santana, even if his outstanding season alone couldn't get the team back to the postseason. Since then, though, he's averaged just shy of nineteen starts per year. Of course, he missed all of 2011 after undergoing major shoulder surgery. His return from that surgery was never guaranteed, and, at least for a little while, his no-hitter on June 1, 2012, made everything seem better. Johan's velocity wasn't coming back, but it appeared he was.
Although he got rocked at Yankee Stadium in the start following his no-no, Santana still had a great pitching line at the end of June. He hurt his ankle in early July and got shelled in every start after that until the Mets shut him down for the season. Despite all of that, I still thought it unwise to underrate Santana heading into 2013.
With Opening Day just less than three weeks away, though, Santana hasn't appeared in a Grapefruit League game. That's not a good sign. A couple weeks ago, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson expressed some frustration about Santana's inability to pitch. Of particular relevance were Alderson's quotes to the press.
"I think there was an expectation that when he came in, he’d be ready to pitch," he said. "But it was clear over the first few days he wasn't ready."
Every indication since then has been that Santana isn't happy with the implication that he showed up to camp unprepared. The day after Alderson's comments, he went out and threw a bullpen session, seemingly to prove he was capable of doing so. And this afternoon, John Harper and Andy Martino of the Daily News tweeted that Santana still wasn't happy.
In Lakeland w/Mets, was told Santana remains bitter toward ballclub re: his readiness to pitch. Barely communicating with club officials.— John Harper (@NYDNHarper) March 11, 2013
Santana's anger is palpable in PSL. This will linger for a while.— Andy Martino (@MartinoNYDN) March 11, 2013
So the saga continues. If Santana is, indeed, still hostile to the organization almost two weeks after Alderson's comments, it's tough to take his side. As an athlete and a competitor, there's no doubt that Santana is as frustrated as any Mets fan is with his general inability to pitch over the last couple of years. But if he's going to hold a grudge against the Mets much longer, well, he should reconsider.
When you're the highest-paid player on the team — and there's nothing wrong with that in and of itself — it's hard to win the public relations battle when you've missed so much time with injuries and aren't currently playing in baseball games.
In a few weeks, perhaps this will have all blown over as Santana makes a slightly delayed start to his 2013 season. But there's a chance, as Martino implies, that the "Santana vs. the Mets" story will continue to have legs well into the season, particularly if Santana is barely communicating with the team.