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Johan Santana's Million Mile Journey Back Begins This Afternoon

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In a little over an hour's time, Johan Santana will make his Grapefruit League debut for the New York Mets.

Johan Santana will pitch a couple of innings in front of fans who aren't ardent followers of the Single A St. Lucie Mets of the Gulf Coast League. He'll hurl fastballs before cameras that will capture every moment for SNY, and call upon changeups that will encourage Howie Rose and the new guy to wax poetic for WFAN. He'll stand on the mound in a Mets jersey for the still photographers to capture and for opposing managers to commence scouting.

It's thrilling, if only because Santana remains one of the few players on the current Mets roster who could elevate this moribund franchise from the depths of the NL East. If Santana can even capture a glimmer of his old self in 2012, the rotation exchanges a few question marks for exclamation points fairly quickly.

And yet, there isn't a Mets fan on the planet who can utter anything other than the sole goal pursued by Mets manager Terry Collins for his team's Grapefruit League debut on Monday evening:

"Nobody get hurt," he said. "What I want to see tomorrow is nobody in the trainer's room. That's what I want to see."

That's what we all want to see from our presumed 2012 Opening Day starter this afternoon -- and for the rest of the season, too.

After The New York Post's Joel Sherman tested his official Sandy Alderson death march drum for this first time this morning, he made one interesting comment about Alderson's chances for success and how those chances are steeped in the mess left behind by his predecessor:

When asked to define 2012 progress, Alderson says his goals are the playoffs regardless of how futile that may seem to the outside world. The irony is for his team to even flirt with such notions he is almost exclusively at the mercy of youngsters brought in during a Minaya regime that was viewed as a failure because of, among other things, lack of clear vision when it came to player development.

It's an interesting claim, if misguided. No one knocked Minaya's eye for talent (see: R.A. Dickey, Fernando Tatis, and the litany of other MLB retreads that came up Milhouse for the former Mets general manager). We knocked his player valuation skills and overall developmental approach (see: Tony Bernazard). We knocked his penchant for giving Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo, and Jason Bay too much money.

Santana likely fits in that latter category, but that'll be the furthest thought from my mind when he looks in for the signs from his catcher at Port St. Lucie this afternoon. It's maddening that he likely won't be worth the $55 million guaranteed to him over the next two-plus seasons or the additional $19.5 million it would take to keep him in 2014. It's maddening that his contract will handcuff Alderson's shrinking payroll indefinitely...

...but only if he can't pitch. If Santana pitches, if he earns even some of his keep, then the Mets' immediate future looks at least a bit more promising. He can't be the longterm solution and he likely doesn't fit into the much necessary strategy of fiscal responsibility now being implemented by Alderson, but he's here now and likely not going anywhere by virtue of his albatross of a contract. And if he can find a way to distinguish his classic changeup from his rapidly-diminishing fastball, then the Mets remain better with their former ace than they are without him.

Yes, the Mets need more than Santana to truly make something of 2012 -- but a healthy Santana's a good start. That good start could commence in less than an hour if Santana can just stay healthy. I, like many of my Metsopotamian brethren, will be watching closely, fingers crossed.