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1/30/2008 01:36:00 PM

The first 89 percent of the offseason didn't matter

By Jason Fry, Faith and Fear in Flushing

Johan Santana has a career record of 93-44. He has a 3.22 ERA, amassed in a league where they ought to have a keg behind second base. He has struck out 1,381 guys in 1308.2 innings. He has two Cy Young awards on his shelf. He led the American League in strikeouts in 2004, '05 and '06. His arsenal consists of a 91-92 MPH fastball, a biting slider and one of the game's best changeups that makes his fastball look like it's sporting an additional 3 to 4 MPH. He's a lifetime .258 hitter, for Pete's sake. He'll be 29 on Opening Day. He's left-handed.

And unless something so awful happens that this blog will immediately be renamed Fire and Famine in Flushing, he's about to be a New York Met.

Despite the press corps biting at his ankles and a traumatized fan base in open rebellion, Mets GM Omar Minaya locked up a guy who could be the best pitcher in baseball for a stunningly reasonable price: Carlos Gomez, Kevin Mulvey, Deolis Guerra and Philip Humber. Fernando Martinez and Mike Pelfrey remain in the Mets' employ. I'd still like an explanation for Lastings Milledge's exile and the firehose of money blasted at Luis Castillo, but these now go in the "Oh, by the way" file, to be brought up post-hosannas. Omar's got a lot of credit for being creative and for being persistent, but he pulled off this deal by showing patience that bordered on the superhuman.

We could regret the names of the departed, of course: Gomez held his own in a Shea Stadium trial when he should still have been in the minors, Humber put up not-bad Pacific Coast League numbers while on the rebound from Tommy John surgery, Mulvey's been talked up as a blue-chipper and Guerra is a 19-year-old with an awesome arm. And, as always, there's the shadow of the past: We root for a team that traded Amos Otis, Jason Bay and Scott Kazmir, after all. On the other hand, we once wondered whether it was worth mortgaging the bright futures of Tim Foli, Floyd Youmans, David West and Alex Escobar for short-term gains. Anybody heard from Geoff Goetz and Ed Yarnall recently?

And we're talking about Johan Santana here, not Victor Zambrano or Kris Benson. Heck, Santana's barely the same species as those two.

What will happen with Santana at the top of the rotation? Can't tell you. How could I? OK, I can predict one bad thing: As you read this, some nitwit in the Met A/V department is excitedly putting Johan highlights to the tune of Smooth. (Because the kids today, they go crazy over that Santana.)

But that aside, I can tick off a long list of things that now won't happen:

  • I will not stare numbly at Grapefruit League games listening to Rick Peterson telling me that Kyle Lohse has done a great job visualizing success or hearing Minaya say that Livan Hernandez "knows how to pitch." Hearing either of those two beater cars talked up like a vintage, low-margin Ferrari would have been ... disappointing.

  • My scenarios for the Mets making it back to the playoffs no longer begin with Pedro Martinez being sturdy, John Maine and Oliver Perez not regressing and El Duque's brittle bones surviving a full season intact. All of those things remain important, but they're no longer the foundation without which all higher aspirations crumble.

  • I will not have to read Marty Noble wax eloquent about the inherent nobility and wise perspective of Tom Glavine, as prelude to pointing out (correctly) that the Mets never found a replacement for his innings.

  • The inane chatter of pitchers and catchers will be about how Santana has changed the clubhouse dynamic (or whatever), instead of 63 billion questions about the worst collapse in baseball history.

    And finally, there it is. For once, the talk-radio gasbags were right: If ever a club desperately needed a page turned, it was the current incarnation of the Mets. By collapsing on the final day of the season, there was no way to turn that page. With no next chapter, there was nothing to do but brood over what had happened. The collapse was destined to dominate February and March, to haunt April, and there was the very real danger of it shaping the narrative of late spring and summer. There was no escape.

    But it turns out there was a way out. Minaya found it, and he didn't even pay the king's ransom we would have forgiven as the price for the key. Here's to Omar. Here's to a clean getaway. Here's to 2008. Here's to Johan Santana.
    posted by SI.com | View comments |
  • Comments:

    Posted: January 30, 2008 8:23 PM   by Anonymous Mike from Mahopac
    Even with Johan, the Mets are still a second place team. He is only one man. Maine, Oliver and Hernandez are not overwhelming, Pedro is not Pedro and the bullpen is weak.

    Their offense is not consistent. Beltran is overrated, Delgado is regressing, and the outfield corners are what-ifs.

    Go Atlanta!!!!!
    Nice writing.

    Don't sweat the money for Castillo. For as long as it lasts he's the ideal #2 hitter for this team and the ideal pivot on a lightning doubleplay. And Schneider and Church are gamers and Milledge only may be. Omar's so slick at recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of a market. He did it again with Santana. I'd say the offseason's been productive.
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