Planning Without Santana
We have heard the news that Johan Santana will not pitch again in 2010, due to a shoulder injury. Despite the fact that Santana has yet to see Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion, and has yet to even schedule a surgery date — much less undergo the surgery, which will reveal the true extent of the injury — we have also been told that Johan “will begin playing catch in January” and is expected to be OK next season.
Why am I having a feeling of deja vu?
Perhaps because I still remember — all too clearly — similar response by management to injuries to J.J. Putz, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Duaner Sanchez, John Maine, Ryan Church, and most recently, Jason Bay.
So pardon me if I’m a bit cynical regarding Santana’s recovery.
This is a team that counted on Carlos Beltran to return to perfect health by Opening Day after what might’ve been microfracture surgery; believed Kelvim Escobar could be the setup man even if he couldn’t grip a baseball; planned on a starting rotation that had four pitchers returning from surgery and a fifth who was the backup plan. And this “hope for the best” wasn’t new — the Mets similarly crossed their fingers that high-impact players would return from injuries in previous seasons. Putz, Moises Alou, Orlando Hernandez, Pedro Martinez, and Carlos Delgado are a few that immediately come to mind.
You would think that management would learn from past mistakes, and plan for the next season assuming that a major puzzle piece would NOT be available. This way, the team is prepared and can move forward in the event the piece indeed is unavailable — and if the player does come back, it is a bonus.
With that thinking, the Mets GM — be it Omar Minaya or someone else — should construct the 2011 roster without Johan Santana. Use a pen to write Jon Niese, Mike Pelfrey, and R.A. Dickey into three of the rotation spots, and figure out how to fill out the other two. Perhaps one can be fulfilled from within, via in-house candidates such as Dillon Gee, Pat Misch, Hisanori Takahashi, and Jenrry Mejia (though, I’d like to also see a veteran journeyman free agent added to the mix; maybe someone like Chad Gaudin or Bruce Chen). For the other spot, you make it an offseason priority to acquire a quality, reliable, healthy starting pitcher.
Note I did not say empty the bank for Cliff Lee; though it would be nice to replace your ace with an ace, I don’t know that it is absolutely necessary — or possible. The last time the Mets made it into the postseason, they did it without a genuine ace. The last time they reached the World Series, they did not have a clear-cut ace.
Other than Lee, the best that the potential free agent market has to offer includes Jeremy Bonderman, Bronson Arroyo, Ted Lilly, Jeff Francis, Hiroki Kuroda, Kevin Correia, Jon Garland, Carl Pavano, and Brad Penny. All of those pitchers have their flaws, but you have to kick the tires on each, and consider whether any of them might fit into the plan. Additionally, you can roll the dice on Brandon Webb, Justin Duschsherer, and/or Dontrelle Willis — note I say “additionally”, not “instead of”. Expecting Kelvim Escobar to be the setup man after throwing only 5 pitches in 2009 was dumb; acquiring a true setup man and signing Escobar for depth would have been a worthwhile gamble. Similarly, getting a solid starter and taking a chance on Webb (for example) is a manageable risk with promising upside.
There may be decent starting pitchers available via trade, as well. There’s buzz that Matt Garza could be shopped, and the A’s may part with NJ native Vin Mazzaro in the right deal. Garza may be difficult to pry away, but Mazzaro could be obtainable — and chances are, there will be pitchers with skill levels in between those two who are on the block this winter.
It may make sense to acquire two solid starters; perhaps one by trade and one via free agency. In fact, that wouldn’t be a terrible idea even if Santana didn’t injure his shoulder — a team can never have too many pitchers.
The Mets can and should build their 2011 club with the thought that Santana’s spot needs to be filled. It should be a nice surprise and a bonus if Johan Santana is healthy and able by April 2011 — not an expectation. That’s not pessimism, it is good planning.