Can Johan Santana Regain His Form in 2012?

When the Twins traded Johan Santana on February 1, 2008, the superstar starter was coming off a 4 1/2 year stretch in which he went 82-35 with 1,152 strikeouts and a 2.92 ERA - all major league bests during that time. In his four full years in the Twins rotation, Santana averaged 34 starts and 228 innings pitched. He won the Cy Young in 2004 and 2006, finished 3rd in 2005, 5th in 2007 and took home a Gold Glove. He was the undisputed Best Pitcher In Baseball.

The Twins of course, decided they couldn’t afford to sign Santana and traded him to New York with a year left on his contract. As part of the deal, he inked a 6-year, $135 million extension with the Mets that included a full no-trade clause. Carlos Gomez was the best of the four players the Twins received in the deal, although Philip Humber appears to have gotten his career on track with the White Sox.

Neither the Twins nor Santana have been the same since they parted ways. While the Twins have won two division titles in the post Santana era, they have never been able to replace him with any semblance of an ace at the top of their rotation. They’ve gone 0-6 in the postseason largely because of this. Santana’s once Cooperstown bound career meanwhile, has been sidetracked by a serious shoulder injury.

Santana’s transition to the Big Apple began seamlessly. In 2008, he went 16-7 and led the NL with 34 starts and a career best 2.53 ERA, 234 1/3 innings and 964 batters faced. He finished 3rd in the Cy Young balloting and was everything the Mets could’ve hoped for.

In 2009, Santana remained effective, but was nagged by injuries and saw his production drop. His 166 2/3 innings were his lowest since 2003 and the Mets finished 70-92. It was not a fun season for anyone involved. Santana posted 2.98 ERA in 199 innings in 2010, but his season ended in mid September when he underwent surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his left shoulder.

The surgery was more complicated than normal because it could not be done arthroscopically. The Mets had hoped he would return for the second half of the 2011 season, but it didn’t happen. Santana, who turns 33 this month, missed the entire season.

The 2-time Cy Young winner threw two simulated innings on Friday and is scheduled to make his first spring training start on Tuesday. His progress, or lack thereof, will be one of the key story lines of the 2012 season. It would be a shame if we never saw the old Johan Santana again.

With Santana ailing, Torii Hunter turning 37 in July, A.J. Pierzynski at 35, 34-year-old Cristian Guzman attempting a comeback with the Indians and others like Jacque Jones and Doug Mienkiewicz retired, the players who returned the Twins back to respectability and prominence a decade ago are quickly fading away. In light of the team’s current struggles, it seems even more imperative that we enjoy them why we can.

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