Depth was certainly not considered to be a strength for the New York Mets for the upcoming season, so Thursday's news that starter Johan Santana is likely lost for year made a bad situation even worse.
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson held a conference call to announce that Santana suffered a re-tear in his left shoulder, a diagnosis made by team orthopedist Dr. David Altchek and confirmed by the famous duo of Dr. James Andrews and Dr. Lewis Yocum.
It's hardly ever a good thing when Andrews and Yocum enter the conversation.
Santana's first shoulder injury caused him to miss all of the 2011 season and with a second surgery likely according to Alderson, there stands a good chance that Santana will never pitch for the Mets again. This season is the final of his six-year, $137.5 million contract, with the club holding an option for 2014. Given the latest setback, it is all but assured that the Mets will exercise their $5.5 million buyout instead.
The Mets came into spring training thinking they would have Santana at full strength, but he was soon diagnosed with left shoulder weakness and was expected to begin the regular season on the disabled list. Alderson said it is unknown when the 34-year-old lefty actually injured his shoulder again.
However, the wear on the tires was already starting to show, especially after Santana provided the highlight of his Mets tenure with the franchise's first ever no-hitter on June 1. He stood 3-2 with a 2.38 earned run average after that outing, his 11th start of the season, but obviously the career-high 134 pitches he unleashed to accomplish the milestone took a toll.
Santana was rocked for six runs over five innings in a loss at the New York Yankees seven days later and the rest of his season was hampered by ankle and back injuries. He went 3-7 with an 8.27 ERA over his final 10 starts, including an 0-5 mark and 15.63 ERA in the last five.
The Mets would have been fooling themselves if they thought that Santana would return to his previous dominance this season, a form that netted him two AL Cy Young Awards and a third-place finish in the voting for the NL honor in 2008. But Alderson was looking to buy time until top prospect Zack Wheeler was deemed ready for the majors.
Wheeler is likely to join New York's rotation some time before the end of the season, similar to how the Mets handled prospect Matt Harvey a season ago, bringing up the talented righty in late July, and won't rush Wheeler despite the latest setback to the rotation.
"We will bring him up when he is ready and no immediate need will impact that," he said.
But Alderson will have to have a call to arms given the Santana injury and the lingering neck ailment to right-hander Shaun Marcum, who was signed this offseason to replace the traded R.A. Dickey. Righty Jeremy Hefner was already slated to replace Santana and Alderson said that the Mets are not currently in the market to add pitching.
"We are not terribly deep right now with Santana out indefinitely and Marcum's current situation. On the other hand, we do feel that we have not just depth in the system but also some exceptional talent coming through the system. We'll just have to see how our needs and the maturation of that talent connect," said the GM.
"What we have will suffice us."
What the Mets won't have is the services of Santana, who went 46-34 with a 3.18 ERA in 109 starts with the Mets after he was acquired from the Minnesota Twins on Feb. 2, 2008. However, New York has not made the postseason since acquiring Santana.
Still, the Mets knew the risks when they went after Santana and handed him a long-term deal and you would be hard-pressed to find a fan willing to trade his no-hitter for anything.
Plus, the return that the Twins got on Santana -- four players that included Carlos Gomez and Philip Humber -- haven't done much in the majors and certainly wouldn't be much of a help to the Mets now.
After trading away Carlos Beltran in 2011 and losing Jose Reyes to free agency before the start of last season, the Mets knew that a rebuilding phase was coming. Santana's injury expedites that process even if it won't impact New York's plans for its talented young starters.