In which the Mets push Johan Santana to the breaking point
It would have been funny, if a man's health and one-third of the Mets' 2013 payroll hadn't been at stake.
But apparently the team's brain trust, including Sandy Alderson, a man brought in as general manager to make the best long-term decisions for the team, decided to ask the man the Mets owe $31 million next year to keep on pitching.
Here's Terry Collins before Monday night's game, which turned out to be a 3-1 loss to the Rockies, describing what sounds like a used car you'd never, ever buy.
"There's is nothing really physical--outside of why we disabled him the first time," Collins said. "His arm is fine. His shoulder is fine. His ankle is fine. You know, does his ankle still bother him? Yeah, it might on certain pitches. It may covering first. That's one of those ankle-sprain things that doesn't go away for three months anyway. I've had a million of them. But he's taped up. He's fine. He's ready to go. He's got a little stiffness in his back that's a minor thing that has come out after just working. He's fine."
Alderson's logic was that he wanted Santana to end on a "high note," without mentioning that pursuit of that high note will mean exposing a fatigued and beaten-up pitcher to more chances to get injured.
Maybe this is also a good time to mention the Mets are 10 games out of the final wild card spot, and 19 games behind Washington in the National League East.
Santana was willing to oblige, of course. This is the man who threw 125 pitches on the second-to-last day of the 2008 season, on three days rest, with a torn meniscus in his knee. This is the man who was asked to throw by the Mets in 2010, after having complained of pain in his shoulder that turned out to be the massive injury that cost him all of 2011. This is the man who refused to come out of his June 1 no-hit bid, even as he reached a career-high 134 pitches.
A large aspect of what makes these athletes great is their willingness to play no matter what. And a large part of why the Mets end up with worse injuries to their stars is an unwillingness to make smarter decisions for them.
It wouldn't be right to suggest that the Mets are the only team to push their players. But it's funny how some oft-injured Mets have fared after they left.
Jose Reyes, who was once pressured by the Mets into attempting to come back for the final weekend of the 2009 season, resulting in a more significant injury and surgery, is with the Marlins now, and has played 121 of 123 games since his move.
Carlos Beltran, whose decision to get the knee surgery he needed so angered the Mets that the front office held a conference call to discuss their fury, has played in 115 of 121 games for the Cardinals.
Both players are excelling.
The Mets, it appears, learned nothing from Reyes, Beltran and so many others (take a look at J.J. Putz's numbers before, during and after his season with the Mets, when he was asked to pitch through elbow pain) even though the decision-makers were supposed to have changed.
So when David Wright hurt his thumb early this year, the Mets went public with an intimidation campaign. Wright, fortunately, managed to play through it and thrive. But what that ultimately did for the team's relationship with Wright isn't clear.
And now Santana, asked to go throw another bullpen session on Monday despite his nagging injuries, came in saying his back had stiffened up.
Collins got to deliver the news after the game that the car he'd just tried to sell reporters pregame was now on the side of the road again.
"He came in stiffer today than he had been," Collins said. "Actually, they got him loosened up. He threw his pen. He felt fine. When he was done, he got a little tight. He had the doctor look at it. And the doctor thought they should look at it tomorrow. So they're going to do that."
If it hadn't been his back, it probably would have been something else.
Why the Mets did the Mets take that risk? After all the fanfare surrounding a Monday meeting of the brain trust and a thought-out decision? Collins said pregame that it was Santana who wanted to pitch, as if that settled it.
It is all so disspiriting because it fits a pattern that was supposed to end under Alderson. Things like the inexplicable public announcements and plans to pitch R.A. Dickey on short rest long after the Mets were out of contention, continued shifting of Jenrry Mejia from starter to reliever and back, holding onto Scott Hairston for meager 2012 gains instead of adding a prospect to the team's young talent base.
It's not like a better decision-making process can prevent all injuries. But it can limit the impact of the injuries that do occur, and prevent others. (See the Yankees' handling of CC Sabathia for an example of how it's done.)
It's not Alderson's fault that the Mets' roster is so limited, given the extreme budgetary restraints forced upon him by ownership's financial problems. But if he's not providing the steadying influence that stops the team from making reckless decisions, what's he there for?
Elsewhere in New York sports:
Derek Jeter kept on hitting, but a rough outing for Freddy Garcia and the bullpen gave the White Sox a 9-6 win Monday.
Michael Pineda, the big-splash acquisition last winter who has missed all of 2012 with a shoulder injury, was arrested for D.U.I. Monday.