Johan Santana Injury Is the Reality of Risky Contracts

The New York Mets announced some incredibly sad news regarding Johan Santana this evening. Via Adam Rubin:

New York Mets pitcher Johan Santana has a probable re-tear in an anterior capsule in his pitching shoulder in which he previously had surgery in 2010, the team announced Thursday.

Santana underwent surgery on Sept. 2, 2010, to repair the capsule in his left shoulder — a rare procedure in baseball — and it took more than a year for him to return to the major leagues.

“A second surgery is a strong possibility,” general manager Sandy Alderson said.

The Mets signed Santana to a six-year, $137.5 million contract prior to the 2008 season. Santana got almost halfway through the contract before breaking down. From 2008-10, Santana posted an aggregate 2.85 ERA in exactly 600 innings of work. However, he had elbow surgery in September 2009, but he was ready in time for the start of the next season. He had shoulder surgery in September 2010 which forced him out of 2011 entirely.

Things were finally looking up for Santana in 2012 as he was able to start on Opening Day and even threw five shutout innings. He threw a no-hitter — the Mets’ first in franchise history — on June 1 against the Cardinals, but then the cloudy skies covered up the sunlight. After the no-hitter, he posted an 8.27 ERA in 49 innings, missing 20 games in July and August due to an ankle sprain, then 43 games between mid-August and the end of the season due to back inflammation. And now we have the unfortunate news of a re-tear in his throwing shoulder, which likely ends his career as a Met, and potentially his career entirely.

This is, sadly, the reality of signing players to lengthy, big money contracts, particularly when they’re older. The Phillies are seeing that now, with a declining Roy Halladay playing out the last of a three-year, $60 million contract (on which the right-hander actually gave the Phillies a discount). They are in the third year of Cliff Lee‘s five-year, $120 million contract, and recently signed Cole Hamels to a six-year, $144 million contract.

Each of those contracts given out by the Phillies was met with near-universal appeal, as was the contract given by the Mets to Santana. Still, the risk is there and you never know what could go wrong. This past off-season, the Dodgers signed Zack Greinke to a six-year, $147 million deal; the Mariners extended Felix Hernandez at seven years, $175 million; the Cardinals just extended Adam Wainwright at five years and $97.5 million. The Phillies are not alone in their valuation of elite starting pitching. But you have to wonder if the reward of obtaining at least a few years of elite pitching is worth the risk of having a $20 million-plus albatross on your payroll. Given the unpredictable nature of injuries, this is an inexact science at best and is in reality glorified coin-flipping.

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