The Mets starting rotation has been performing pretty well. No one’s an ace, but mostly they’re keeping the team in games and pitching pretty well. Johan Santana appears to have taken the next step towards return, but there are a lot of questions revolving around that. Will he be the dominant Santana we’ve come to know and love, or some lesser pitcher while still recovering from the shoulder surgery? Which pitcher would he replace in the rotation, and will he be able to go deep into games, or will he be on a strict pitch count?
Maybe it’s Johan Santana who should go to the bullpen. In the best case we’re talking about five weeks of games, and maybe six or seven starts. He’ll barely have time to really get into a routine and build up some arm strength. Pitching out of the bullpen would allow him to work on his game and proving his shoulder is repaired without having to really push it. He’ll be able to build muscle and arm strength and work on his mechanics without the strain of 100 pitches at a time. They could work out a schedule and not pitch him too often or back to back days or whatever works best for him.
He has done it before. When he first came up with the Twins he spent a lot of time in the bullpen, and while that was before he was established it’s not exactly a foreign concept to him, he’s pitched 77 games out of the bullpen in his career. Let the beat writers joke about the Mets 23 million dollar middle reliever, it’s still better than the Mets 23 million dollar Ace who’s still experiencing soreness in his shoulder. Or..
Many feel Francisco Rodriguez is a lock to get traded before his option vests. It’s certainly possible, and it does seem like the Mets have a plan in mind with him as they certainly don’t seem to care about his option or use. What about using Johan Santana to close? Closers don’t have a whole ton of value, which is part of the reason you don’t need an overpaid closer clogging up the roster, but you do still need to replace the quality innings Rodriguez gives you and what better way than someone like Santana? You could say that Santana is not used to getting ready to pitch that fast, but he’d have all of “Spring Training” to get used to it, and with a closer you often have a couple more minutes.
After all, the goal with Johan is to get him pitching again. He needs to build up his arm muscles again and recover from having his shoulder sliced open. He doesn’t necessarily need to throw 40-50 innings to do so, 20-25 in a more limited capacity could be just fine. He’d be able to test out his shoulder, get some time under his belt with major league innings, and shut down at the end of the season healthy and ready to rev it back up in Spring Training like normal.
A lot of this could depend on how the Mets are doing in the playoff picture when Johan Santana comes back. On the other hand, it’d be foolish to rely on Johan for anything this year at this point in his rehab, so if he does indeed come back, the Mets don’t need to desperately shove him into the rotation and demand he win every game. Let him ease himself back into pitching, and take what value you can get while keeping him healthy and strong. He’s too valuable to future years to push him too hard coming back from surgery.