As Goes Johan, So Will Mets

Remember when the theory was that the Mets would go as far as Jose Reyes would take them? I.e., “as goes Reyes, so goes the Mets.” The thought was that Reyes was the key to the Mets success, and there may have been some stats that kinda, sorta, backed it up.

Fast-forward to the After Reyes period in Mets history, and Ron Darling‘s quote prior to yesterday’s spring training contest:

There’s no team in Major League Baseball that looks to one player — especially a starting pitcher — more than the New York Mets. Johan Santana is everything to this team …

Ronnie may have something there. The only other teams that immediately come to mind who are incredibly dependent on one starting pitcher (or any one individual) are the Tigers (Justin Verlander) and the Marlins (Josh Johnson). The Tigers, though, have a pretty decent supporting cast, including a couple of other-worldly sluggers named Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. The Fish might be a closer match, since their 2011 season went kaput in a hurry after Johnson went down. But rather than argue what player is most important to a team, let’s look at this in our Flushing vacuum: is it true that everything for the Mets in 2012 depends on what Johan Santana does — or doesn’t — do?

It’s an interesting question. Many would agree that Santana can win the Cy Young and it won’t help the Mets finish higher than fourth in the NL East. At the same time, if Santana can’t give the Mets at least 20-25 starts, last place is more or less a guarantee.

Perhaps more behind the argument of Johan’s importance is his value as the “meal ticket”. We don’t hear that term much any more but old schoolers know it means an ace pitcher who “puts fannies in the seats.” That fits, no? We know the odds are against the Mets making a postseason run, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t make money. And I believe that the club’s 2012 profitability is directly tied to Santana’s presence — and to a lesser degree, his performance. Because as long as the casual fan — i.e., NOT the one who, like you, reads Mets blogs on a daily basis — sees or hears about Santana pitching every fifth day, then there is hope that the Mets can be OK, there is belief that the Mets are relevant, and there is a reason to make a family trip to Citi Field and buy a Santana jersey.

David Wright also provides this “feelgood” perception for casual fans, but I wonder if it’s to the degree of Santana? Or is it more? Beyond those two, I don’t know who else on the Mets has truly universal impact. Again, you have to try to put yourself in the shoes of the average Mets fan — and that’s not you. It’s the guy, for example, who works at the concierge desk, is a “diehard” Mets fan, yet has no idea who R.A. Dickey is. It’s the mother of three who wears a David Wright jersey to match the ones of her kids when they make the trip to Citi Field three times a year, yet thinks Ike Davis is an R&B singer from the 1970s. That’s the part of the fan base that ultimately drives the profits for the New York Mets.

If Johan Santana can stay healthy and pitch on Opening Day, it will be good news and big news — the kind reported during the 22 minutes that 1010 WINS gives you the world. Santana’s presence keeps the Mets relevant. His success breeds hope, and diverts attention from the financial and legal troubles of ownership. Conversely, his absence could cause the Mets to fade quickly from public consciousness — or put the focus back on the negative.

The Mets know this, Santana himself knows this, and that may be dangerous to Johan’s health. He knows how important he is to the franchise’s success or failure, particularly now with ownership’s dire financial troubles. He also knows he’s being paid an astonishing amount of money that hasn’t provided an acceptable ROI. Could these two factors, added to Johan’s pride and sheer love for competition, cloud his mind during his comeback? Is it possible that he’s feeling pain but not talking about it, and/or, might he push himself too far to make that Opening Day start?

Based on what has been reported about Johan’s personality and drive, you have to at least consider the possibility he’ll put the weight of the franchise on his damaged shoulder. He seems the type to accept responsibility, and take ownership of it even if it’s beyond his scope.

What do you think? Is Johan Santana the Mets’ “meal ticket?” If so, is that factor weighing on his mind, and perhaps influencing how he executes his comeback? Post your thoughts in the comments.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Angelo March 7, 2012 at 7:31 am
    First of all , you doing a great Job Joe , I am a Mets Fan since 99 , tough to see any baseball at that time here in Germany . Thank god for the streams and torrents …

    So, i think Johan´s impact for THIS Mets are a Nobrainer BUT they can also beat a Team with her offense , no doubt. I think we are in the best Division in Baseball right now but this nonsense wild card rule could work out for us this year . We all should believe like we used to and hoping for 85-90 wins . Thats all we need . GO METS

  2. Michael Black March 7, 2012 at 7:49 am
    I cant help but think that if Johan pitches well this year then it changes everything. I am not convinced that all the other teams in the division got better. I dont think much of the other lineups and I would guess one or two of the top pitchers will go down. Health is everything. Mets are due for a healthy year.
  3. Steven March 7, 2012 at 11:14 am
    I respectfully disagree. Even if he feels healthy enough to pitch, the Mets will never use Johan Santana, nor does he have the skills to perform, as a Dwight Gooden or Tom Seaver, true meal ticket pitchers. As just one example, Terry would be foolish to ever let him go past 7 innings and the pitch count is more likely to be 90 per start. Those parameters mean he will not be a dominating pitcher to put fans in the seat. I think the best hope for the Mets finances is good years from the following: David Wright, Ike Davis and Lucas Duda. If Lucas Duda starts off the way that Dave Kingman did in 1975, that will be a story and will put fans in the seats
  4. Paul Festa March 7, 2012 at 12:23 pm
    “…thinks Ike Davis is an R&B singer from the 1970s” Funky!

    Great line.

  5. DaveSchneck March 7, 2012 at 12:30 pm
    Joe,
    Your post is spot on. One additional point – besides the finances, I think Johan playing and performing means everything to his teammates, and that can’t be underrated. Even if he is not the Cy Young pitcher he was, if he can make his starts and pitch to a decent ERA, he takes heat off the starters, and that group will dicate more than anyone the final tally of wins. Even if we finish 5th, Johan and 80 wins is a lot better than no Johan and 62 wins, both for the Wilpon’s bankroll and for the immediate future of the club.
    • Steve S. March 8, 2012 at 8:53 am
      Agree totally! With a good Santana, the Mets have a chance to break even in W-L this year. Throw in good years by Duda, Davis, Wright, Torres, Thole, Murphy, Tejada, and Bay (and an improved bullpen), and they could be pushing for a wild-card spot.

      What is most annoying is that they really needed to have had better depth on the bench and for the starting rotation this year, but the money wasn’t spent for that. Dickey is really the only guy we can count on among the starting pitchers, and the bench (at least right now) sucks, overall.

  6. Joe March 7, 2012 at 1:07 pm
    R.A. Dickey is a character. He climbed a mountain. He’s always the guy who they have giving a statement. He tweets along with Justin Turner. etc.

    This idea that only people who whine on this blog (hey I’m talking about me) know this guy, not the “average Mets fan” is something said more than once. I don’t know if that is true. The “average Mets fan” knows something about the team. If that means “wearing a jersey,” maybe not, but even there, I bet they do. They actually watch the game now and then, don’t they?

    Anyway, yeah, if Santana was healthy last year, the team could have won a few more games, even with the mess of the team. Many bad teams have one very good starter so it’s not just him. But, w/o him, trouble.

    [A comment mentioned he probably wouldn't go past the seventh inning. The pitch count may be more important since it might even get him that far, but a steady pitcher who will give you seven or so is pretty important. If the seven is a good seven more or less, all the better.]

  7. Rob March 7, 2012 at 2:37 pm
    Joe: For what it’s worth, if Santana pitches well this season, I think that virtually guarantees that the Mets will trade him. Given the recent ruling in Madoff and the impending liabilities of the Wilpon-related entities, there is no question that the overarching focus is on saving money. The Mets have done a great job of building a depth-less team, saving as much money as they can to avoid ownership having to subsidize the team with capital infusions. After all, if the Wilpons and their companies don’t have any money, how can they fund the capital needs of their hobby-interest? If they can dump Santana, the payroll decreases by $20-25 million, making the total payroll drop more than $70-75 million. That’ll gird against any cash shortages that the team may experience going forward, especially where the owners can’t ante up additional dollars. So I don’t think that the focus is on winning ball games or rescuing the season. The Wilpons are in full survival mode. To save their ownership, they need to gut the team and reduce their payroll to nothing. That means trading Wright and Santana and skidding along on rookies and AAAA players for the forseeable future.

    I know … I know…I’m being pessimistic. Hey, when someone tells me that the Reyes fiasco was a baseball decision, I can’t accept that. Does Santana mean a lot to this ball club from a purely baseball perspective? Hell yeah. But are the Mets making decisions that are motivated by other than money? Hell no. And unless they actually win enough to end up in second place halfway through the season, I challenge anyone to refute that this year is simply loss-leader for this team and nothing that they do will be baseball-driven.

    Thanks, Joe, and keep up the great work!

    Rob

  8. Rob March 7, 2012 at 2:45 pm
    Oh…and the question that should be asked with respect to Santana is whether he’s worth more as a keeper or as a trading chip. No question that he will put people in the seats if he’s healthy and able to pitch every fifth day. But if the Mets save $20-25 million this season by trading him, does that translate to a balance sheet that reflects losses that are less than they would reap if they kept him and tried to benefit from somewhat higher attendance revenues? I’m suffering from a lack of specifics on Mets revenues, but if they kept Santana and he added $10 million to the revenue side because of increased attendance, does the net result exceed the net result if they traded him and saved all that money? That’s my point in the whole “money-driven” analysis.

    Sorry for the multiple posts. I just wanted to get around to framing the issue in the context of your original question.

    • Mike B March 7, 2012 at 5:30 pm
      Well aside from injuries, the other rumblings were letting Reyes go was a baseball decision because the mets werent planning on winning until his mid 30′s. So they might as well trade anything with a heartbeat that demands money and has any worth on the trade market.
  9. Josh Z March 7, 2012 at 10:57 pm
    from what i have heard johan felt good today which may be a morale boost for the whole team
  10. argonbunnies March 9, 2012 at 5:41 pm
    I think Johan in his prime would grab attention even on a bad team. Everyone likes to see their player racking up Ks and overmatching the opposition.

    The Johan who hasn’t gotten his K rate up to 8 per 9 in 4 years is not going to do that. Fans don’t turn out to watch bad teams trot out guys who merely USED to be superstars, unless it’s for a shot at win #300 or something. So no, I don’t think Santana’s presence is a key to profitability.

    That said, I think he could win us some games, which could keep us in a wildcard race deeper into the season, and THAT might sell some tickets.