I will preclude everything I am about to say with the following statement and caveat – this is purely my own speculation. This being said, allow me to put my X-Files conspiracy hat on…
Johan Santana’s shoulder is fine, or as fine as it would be at this point following the major surgery he had that caused him to miss the entirety of the 2011 season. I was, and until proven otherwise, am still of the opinion that his struggles during the second half of last season that ultimately placed him on the disabled list and ended his 2012 campaign had more to do with rolling his ankle covering first base than the results of the high pitch count while throwing the no-hitter. His production didn’t fall off immediately after the no-no. It occurred after his ankle was rolled over and stepped on. If you’re not able to land properly, you’re not going to be effective. If you’re also not landing properly, there was also no need to risk injury to the shoulder again, and once the Mets fell out of it entirely in 2012, it made all the sense in the world to shut Johan down and let the ankle heal properly.
I’m not buying the current statement that Johan has shoulder weakness and that he didn’t show up to camp ready to pitch. Johan is a competitor. He may have been hurt the last few years, but he’s anything but lazy. He wanted to pitch in the WBC, as he has in the past. When it was announced he had shoulder weakness, he adamantly got on the mound and started throwing. Not because he was being foolhardy, but because he is a proud competitor who is healthy and wants to start opening day.
So why would the Mets say there’s an issue? It’s pretty simple, actually. Trade value.
Johan is in the final year of his contract. While as a 10/5 guy, he has the right to veto any trade, if given the opportunity to pitch for a contender in the postseason or wander into free agency on a losing team that isn’t going to make an attempt to re-sign him – do you really think he’d block a trade?
So why would Sandy Alderson want to hold him back? Wouldn’t one think that since he finished last year on the disabled list that it would INCREASE his trade value at the deadline were he to show in April that he’s come back?
Let’s not forget – it’s been several years since Johan pitched a full season. To make it through a full season and into some serious October baseball, how many innings would that be on his arm and shoulder? Any team trading for Johan at the deadline knows he’s a rental for the stretch run. His trade value in return in terms of players and/or how much of his remaining contract Johan’s new team ends up assuming would depend on how much Johan would be worth for the stretch run and the playoffs.
Without having pitched 200 innings in years, he’s not likely to approach that mark from April-September and have anything left for October. If Sandy and company come up with this “phantom weakness” as an excuse to hold Johan out until the first of May, even if there’s nothing wrong with him – that’s one more month of mileage that’s available to the team he’ll be finishing the season with. That’s one month less of innings that will be on his arm. That’s a greater chance that Johan will be that mercenary top of the rotation starter come October 1st that will have other teams calling.
This all, of course, is dependent on Johan pitching well. If he doesn’t pitch well – his trade value will be very low and it wouldn’t matter if he started pitching in March, April, May or June.
This also is a sign that confirms what we’ve known all along. The Mets don’t see themselves as contenders this season. If they did, Sandy would know that a healthy Santana would be in the ration from the jump – and I do believe he’s healthy.