One Question Looms Over Mets Camp

Johan Santana's status is the biggest question as Mets start camp.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Getty Images
    No Linsanity necessary if Santana can return to the mound.

    Getting away from New York isn't enough to escape discussion of Jeremy Lin.

    The Mets have arrived in Port St. Lucie, but the start of baseball can't provide distraction from the biggest story of the sports year. Perhaps it is the perceived similarity between the Knicks when they were 8-15 and what the Mets are going to be this year that led Harvey Araton of the Times to ask Mets G.M. Sandy Alderson if the Mets were hoping to find their own version of Linsanity in Queens this year.

    "What’s happening at the Garden is an incredible story," Alderson said. "And it certainly reminds me that anything is possible. But, no, I don’t spend my time looking under the carpet for the baseball version of Jeremy Lin."

    The closest thing the Mets could have to Lin would probably be shortstop Ruben Tejada, mostly because the prospect of the Mets replacing Jose Reyes with someone nearly as good would approach the Lin story on the improbability scale. Other than that, and barring a change in plans that rushes a prospect like Matt Harvey or Zack Wheeler to the big leagues, the Mets will have to make do with what's on hand.

    It's not all bad. The lineup has a fair amount of potential -- assuming the good health that has evaded the Mets for years -- and the remade bullpen looks deep enough to protect the leads that come their way.

    How many leads they get will come down to the rotation and that's where the big Mets issue lies as they start the 2012 season. Unless Jon Niese's new nose has a remarkable effect on his left arm, the returnees from last year isn't going to dazzle anyone.

    R.A. Dickey was the only above-average pitcher last season, while Niese's strong peripherals didn't turn into strong results. Dillon Gee fell apart in the second half and Mike Pelfrey is getting to the point where waiting for a breakthough is about as fruitful as waiting for Godot.

    That leaves Johan Santana, who is the biggest question mark on the team as well as its greatest hope to overperform meager expectations. If Santana is able to take regular turns in the rotation and pitch remotely like the guy he's been in the past, the Mets will have a chance to win more games than they did last year.

    How likely is that? Here's where we ask for your guess because it is as good as any.

    Santana felt good throwing a bullpen session on Friday and he will throw another on Tuesday, but comebacks from a torn anterior capsule in the shoulder aren't all that predictable. We learned that last year as the Mets and Santana kept kicking the can down the road until the seasone ended with zero appearances from Santana.

    And that's before we even get to what kind of shape his left arm is going to be in when he is able to get on the mound. It may take months for him to get back into form, something that won't leave the Mets with much hope for their season.

    If he can't go at all (or if another starter gets hurt), there's nothing appealing in reserve. Miguel Batista or Chris Schwinden represent the next men up and that's nothing to smile about, even if it is just February and the time for irrational optimism about the year to come.

    We'll hold off on a pun combining Santana and insanity, but the lefty's status this season, not some unknown quantity, is going to be the biggest factor in the Mets' success or failure.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.