NEW YORK METS: Spare Me the Part About Intangibles Johan Santana Brings to the Table. There's Only One Thing We Need from Him - and that's WINS.
Johan Santana, who last faced MLB batters back on September 2, 2010, has been named the Mets' 2012 Opening Day starter. If in fact his shoulder is healthy again, it is only logical the Mets' returning ace take his rightful place on the mound for the season opener.
But exactly which Johan Santana the Mets are getting back remains to be seen. In a recent post, I already posed the question - What's the rush? Moving on, any real confidence in his shoulder being sound will not be gained on April 7th. In order to rest more assured Johan is really back in the clear, we must wait for start number five, and six, and seven, and judge him more critically then.
Whether his effort this Thursday turns out well or badly, I think it would be a mistake to project anything he does, forward. For if you strip away the pageantry of Opening Day, Thursday is merely Johan Santana's first start on the comeback trail - Nothing more. Of course with every start he makes, we all hope he gets incrementally better. But I will not be grading this particular start nor be issuing any kind of report card.
While he returns to the mound for yet another Mets' Opening Day, Johan Santana is clearly not returning to the same team he last pitched for before going down towards the end of the 2010 season. Many of those team mates have been purged; traded; or were just allowed to leave. And the staff heading into the upcoming season is not the staff Johan left behind that was partly rounded out with the likes of John Maine; Oliver Perez; Pat Misch; and Hisanori Takahashi either.
Since September 2010, guys like Dickey and Niese continued to march on minus Johan with a certain level of success. And with Gee, the three have cut their own path together. Suffice to say, last season caused all three (and Pelfrey too..) to learn a lesson or two the hard way. But you know what they say ~ What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. And so I will ask ~ What does Johan bring to these Mets? After all, the Mets played all of last season without him, which incidentally, was the season in which the club initiated their greatest upheaval effort since perhaps the end of the Steve Phillips era.
The best and most obvious way Johan Santana can help the Mets this season is by staying healthy; stopping losing streaks; and in general, winning a majority of his games. That's pretty much it. And I do mean that in a limited sense. Win Win Win. For I do not necessarily think this starting staff needs a mentor who gets paid at Johan's rate. On a number of occasions, R.A. Dickey has already admonished and schooled his team mates and fellow pitchers in matters of comportment; accountability; and professionalism. In that respect, the pitching staff is covered. So I do not think they either need to be led by the hand, nor, pushed from behind by Johan Santana. Point is, the Mets do not need two babysitters. They need wins.
Outside of potential wins, is it knowledge that Johan brings with him? Can Johan help R.A. Dickey with his mechanics, or approach, or anything? Dickey is a Knuckler. They did pitch together during the 2010 season. But there's little Johan can offer there. Besides, Dickey is a self motivator anyway.
Jon Niese pitched along side Johan in 2010 also. But he and Dillon Gee have been influenced more; or should I say forcefully pushed along; by Dan Warthen through a combination of tough love and rough handling. I must say, I like it, and to a certain extent, it has worked. So even outside of real, actual wins, ...if real, actual pitching Knowledge is all Johan has left to offer this team, then, as you see, imparting knowledge in the Mets present situation only gets Johan so far. All that's left for him to give back this team is wins.
Mike Pelfrey? He had his best season the year Johan eventually went down. However, today, he is still largely an enigma, if not a hot mess. Pelfrey also pitched along side Santana for more than three full seasons. If there was any knowledge to be had, none of it was absorbed, or seems to have rubbed off on Pelfrey. We are still struggling along with him, and it can't be blamed on Johan's absence.
This is Johan's new reality. He was brought back to the present by the time machine we call injury-slash-rehab. There is no one to blame when an injury takes you out of one world, and deposits you into another. But this is precisely what I feel has happened to Johan. Who wouldn't want a healthy Johan Santana pitching for them? But in the blink of a Johan Santana eye, the Mets undertook a new direction, and with no recent memory of Johan pitching available (for this fan) to recall, it's as if he no longer fits in, and has to find his way around the room again.
Save me the part about all the intangibles Johan Santana brings to the staff. There is only one thing the team needs from him at this point ~ W's.
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OK Met Fans, where do we go from here until all of the minor leaguers are grown up? Henrry Mejia; Jeurys Familia; Zach Wheeler; Matt Harvey; and some others are still part of Future Talk. They do however, in one respect or another, start the clock ticking down on Johan Santana's time in a Met uniform. And that has nothing to do with my ideas. That's what the organization is doing.
Any further discussion about the Mets starting staff will ultimately point to the bullpen; and to be fair, the pitchers all could have benefited from more offensive support as well. That said....,
Last season, the Armed Farces of the Mets' bullpen offered no quarter; - against their own starting pitchers that is. And no start came more under siege than those made by R.A. Dickey. He could have easily won fifteen games last season, but was victimized by eleven no-decisions, and wound up taking a loss after more than just a few bullpen meltdowns.
As a knuckler, in 208 innings pitched, he only walked 58 batters last season. He gives up less hits than innings pitched, and averages less than a home run allowed per nine innings pitched. And all that is alright by me. With a run here and there, and a save or two along the way, the discussion regarding R.A. Dickey would be sounding very different. His knuckle ball is a known and controlled pitched because he pumps it up there with some velocity. As knuckle ballers go, even he's a bit unconventional. As a pitcher, he's totally unconventional. And that's why he's been very reliable and quite effective these last two seasons. R.A. Dickey is precisely the reason why GM's take chances signing virtual unknowns to minor league deals. Once in a while, you sign a keeper like Dickey.
Jonathan Niese and the Mets appear ready to sign a multi-year contract. And I say it is good. He's a lefty with a good curve ball. What's not to like about that? The curve ball is rapidly becoming a forgotten pitch. Niese throws one well, and has a good enough fastball to make it a very effective pitch for him. This Kid's problem is stamina. Depending on his early game efficiency, he's hitting the wall sometime in the sixth and seventh inning. But he's starting to learn what it takes to break through. And where the bullpen has victimized Niese as well, Jon was usually the one surrendering his own leads. But just like Dickey, Jon Niese could have definitely benefited from a little more offensive support. Can he improve this season and become a fifteen game winner? He won eleven games last season. So I say, absolutely. If anyone can really benefit from having Johan Santana around, it will be Jon Niese.
Dillon Gee? He seems to pitch better when Dan Warthen is yelling at him. And I don't know if that's a bad thing. The way he pitched upon his call up from Buffalo, and winning games in quantity the way he did, wasn't exactly Fernandomania, but it did have us thinking at least for a few games. No matter how you slice it, thirteen wins is not a shabby way to break into the Bigs. If he can duplicate it, that would be great. We'd like his walks to come down and his strikeout to increase a bit, but he seems to understand the art of deception. And he better be smart, because he flirts with a lethal combination of walking too many batters and surrendering the long ball. There were also times like Jon Niese suffered, where Dillon too hit the proverbial wall. Otherwise, Dillon Gee was an anticipated, and now very welcome addition to the staff. If he is facing the number four and five starters of the league, I have every reason to believe he'll keep us competitive in those games.
It seems ironic, that without Johan Santana last season, the starting pitchers of this team were the club's strength. Injuries, lack of slugging production, and an abysmal bullpen, all played major roles in a ruinous season before the starting pitching ever did.
The offense is banking on productive returns from Ike Davis and Daniel Murphy; not to mention a return to form for David Wright and Jason Bay. If healthy, scoring runs late in games may prove less problematic this season, than last. And perhaps the Mets will win a few more games as a result. Optimistically speaking, all five starters in this season's rotation have the ability to achieve double-digit wins. And there's a case to be made each one of them can very well top thirteen apeice. That's sixty five wins right there.
Now imagine, of all things, the Mets enjoy a little luck this year, and that moving the fences in benefits us more than it does the competition, and we get to play with a lead more often that we did last year. Do that, and agree to now round up and give the Mets seventy wins.
Last season, after starting the season with a 5-13 record, they went 72-72 the rest of the way. So how do we improve upon that mark or wind up falling away from it? On the positive side, for generations of Baseballl fans, the answer has always been pitching and defense. Specific to the Mets, it's the Bullpen and Defense that can either make or break the Mets' season.
The Defense playing behind the pitching could prove troubling. And moving the fences in at Citi Field can just as easily make it easier for opponents to launch balls over the new wall as well. That's one thing to consider.
But all fingers point to the Armed Farces of the Mets Bullpen. They were unforgiving last season and ruthlessly cruel to leads; starting pitchers; wins; managers; TV and radio announcers, and us fans in attendance, or following at home. They didn't play favorites when chosing who's quality start to destroy either. What mattered was that they destroyed it completely. They were equal opportunists in that respect.
What money Sandy Alderson spent this off-season, went to rebuild the bullpen. Doctors just opened up the faucet on the knee of Sandy's largest investment and designated closer; Frank Francisco. Now the Met Closer is off to get an MRI. And so the Mets' Armed Farces might be looking for a new recruit soon.
For me, that's where Bobby Parnell comes in. Why bother with anyone else? I said it once; I'll say it again here. I am an unabashed supporter of Bobby Parnell. And it just so happens he had the best spring of any reliver in the bullpen. I believe this kid's best days are ahead of him, and are coming sooner than later. It is still my real hope, Bobby Parnell will emerge as this team's closer. He failed when given the chance last season. But that matters not to me. I say just give him the job now and let the season begin.
The Bullpen will decide once again, how much the Mets will deviate off a 72-72 record. And if they can figure out a way to correct a 5-13 start this time, September could actually turn into a Wild time in Flushing. And with that said, I'll end with three simple words:
Don't Blow It.