At his best he was one of the best, but right now it appears that Johan Santana‘s pitching career might be over. It sounds as if his 2013 season is over before it began and that we may have seen the last of the New York Mets southpaw on the mound.
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson announced Thursday that doctors indicate Santana has a tear of the anterior capsule in his left shoulder. When athletes wish they could have a do-over it is usually to rectify something like a wild pitch or a botched ground ball. Unfortunately, in Santana’s case this may be an instant replay of a devastating injury that he had recovered from after missing the entire 2011 season.
Without stating flat-out that Santana is doomed for this year, Alderson said that it was “a strong possibility” that the pitcher will undergo season-ending surgery. After that, well, who knows? Santana is 34 and if a guy at that age has to sit out two out of three seasons, that does not bode well for his future. In any case, he will be almost certainly be finished with the Mets since his contract with the team expires after this season.
Santana’s return to the Mets rotation in 2012 after losing that 2011 season was initially heartening, but the post-season analysis most definitely offered a mixed message. On the plus side, Santana was the Mets’ opening day starter and in mid-season he pitched the first no-hitter in the history of a team that began play in 1962. But in Santana’s last 10 starts he went 3-7 with an 8.27 earned run average, kind of a flashing light alerting people something was amiss. He adjourned to the disabled list before the end of August with a new injury described as lower back inflammation.
A native of Venezuela, the 6-foot, 210-pound lefty has a lifetime record of 139-78 in 12 Major League seasons, a winning percentage of 64.1. Between his days with the Minnesota Twins, his first team, and the Mets, Santana has led leagues in wins (once), ERA (three times), games started (twice), innings pitched (twice) and strikeouts (three times). Santana twice won the American League Cy Young Award and is a four-time All-Star.
From the little information that has been publicized it is not clear, but unlikely, that Santana just taking time off to rest and then build strength in the shoulder is not going to be an alternative to surgery. If that route is chosen it could turn out to be a surprising cure or a waste of time. Either way Santana, who never threw an inning in spring training, doesn’t pitch, though he does collect a salary in excess of $25 million for this campaign.
It was bad enough when Santana needed major repair work the first time and everyone was rooting for him to bounce back from it. It would be doubly sad if his career has come to a screeching halt because of the same type of injury now. At the very least it sounds as if fresh surgery, followed by lengthy rehab, is a gamble. Will it work? Will it cure Santana’s throwing woes? There is no way to tell for sure unless he endures a new cut and puts 100 percent effort into starting over.
How frustrating it would be if Santana goes through all of that and still can’t pitch with his past effectiveness. How rewarding it would be if he puts up with all of that aggravation and returns to a lineup renewed and can still pitch in top form again. At one time Santana seemed to be on a path to the Hall of Fame. Now he would just like to be able to trod a path between the dugout and the mound.