The Mets that signed Johan Santana in the offseason prior to the 2008 season were a rich, playoff-caliber team that would need an epic collapse to miss out on the postseason. Adding perhaps the best pitcher in baseball to their roster fit the budget and needs of the team. They had two young pitchers in John Maine and Oliver Perez, two veterans in Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez, and a first round pick in Mike Pelfrey, who was looking to improve on his rookie season. Johan Santana had the potential to supplant both the figurative goat of the 2007 collapse and the subpar 2007 pitching of Tom Glavine.
The Mets had no long-term pitching contracts beyond the 2008 season. Hernandez and Martinez were in the last year of deals, Perez was going to be a free agent for the first time, and Maine and Pelfrey were under team control on their initial contracts. Investing, even overpaying, for an elite pitcher wasn't a hard decision or one that seemed financially crippling. The Mets managed to hold onto their top prospect in the trade to acquire Santana, and they had Pelfrey to stow at Triple-A for depth purposes.
The Mets weren't in financial trouble back then and had room to increase their payroll. This was a time when reasonable people expected the Mets to be in the playoff hunt for years to come. Adding Santana to the mix for the stretch run and the playoffs was invaluable. They already had an All-Star slugger at first base, an All-Decade center fielder, and two of the best pitchers of the decade. The Mets were fun to watch and New York took notice. And that's the interest and revenue-generating environment that makes a $25 million pitcher a luxury asset rather than a crippling payroll anchor.
The 2007 Mets had a bad bullpen. They needed quality starting pitchers that wouldn't require as much relief. Even the best relievers pitch at least one-third fewer innings than you expect from a ace starter, making Johan Santana's potential significantly greater than that of a reliever. Adding Johan Santana's innings to the rotation would allow the 2008 Mets to use the limited quality arms in their bullpen and avoid dipping too deep into the barrel for the likes of Guillermo Mota, Aaron Sele, or Scott Schoeneweis.
A no-hitter is one of those wonderful statistical feats that make the game so romantic. A win is a win no matter the score. But watching those zeroes appear on the scoreboard inning after inning, your heart skipping a beat each time an opposing player makes contact with the bat, well that's the pure exhilaration of a baseball game. The Mets going more than 8,000 games without a no-hitter had us craving our fix. Until Santana finally vanquished our demons and no-hit the St. Louis Cardinals. Rationally, it wasn't worth $137.5 million. But I wouldn't trade it for anything.
Johan Santana has given us a competitive presence on the mound—a swagger and attitude that's fun to watch, especially when accompanied by the dominance of one of the game's best pitchers. If Johan Santana has truly thrown his last pitch as a New York Met, it should rouse great memories and great appreciation for his contributions. Given the chance to do it all over again, I'd always put my money on Johan.