Johan Santana hasn't had very good luck the last few years.
First, he lost the 2005 Cy Young Award to Bartolo Colon in what was probably the last year that voters for that category cared about pitcher wins. With all the criticism of the BBWAA over the past several years for their award voting, they made Zack Greinke the Cy Young Award winner in 2009, Felix Hernandez in 2010. That shift has happened, and if the 2005 Awards were voted today, I have no doubt that Santana would win - possibly unanimously.
Second, he got traded to the Mets. Seriously, that's more bad luck than any individual deserves.What's worse, he seems to get a lot of the blame as the Mets have spent the past several seasons as a bit of an embarrassment. With that in mind, I'm going to make a semi-controversial statement:
Trading for Johan Santana was one of the best deals in Mets' franchise history.
Ok, that seems nuts. He's costing them a ton of money, and the Mets haven't done anything for years. So let me explain in a bit more depth.
First off, the Mets traded NOTHING of value to get Santana. As I've discussed in this space, Bill Smith got absolutely fleeced trading the best pitcher alive. Perhaps you would argue that the Mets don't deserve any credit for ripping off Bill Smith, since that seems to have been a general trend of the past several years, and I would grant you that point. Still, every other team out there had a chance to rip of Smith - the Mets stepped up and got it done.
Second, Santana has been very good on the Mets. Not as good as he was from 2004 to 2007 with the Twins, but still, quite good. He's now appeared in 94 games with the Mets, In 631.0 innings, he has a 2.84 ERA, good for a 143 ERA+. For comparison, he had a 141 ERA+ with the Twins. That includes the 2000 and 2001 season where Santana worked as a reliever and wasn't good yet, but the idea that Santana has been a significantly worse pitcher with the Mets than they expected is just not correct. His peripherals have remained strong as well, with 530 strikeouts against 176 walks, putting him with a K/BB ratio just over 3.0. He's also given up slightly under a home run per 9 innings.
After missing the entire 2011 season, Santana has pitched effectively in his first six starts of this season. He has allowed more than 1 run only twice, and now has three consecutive quality starts. He should have won his first game before Saturday, but don't forget, he pitches for the Mets. At a 9.87 K/9 rate and 2.61 ERA, and only 1 home run allowed, he is pitching like an ace. Of course, he's pitched like an ace for a long time. Maybe he hasn't always been healthy, but he's pretty much always been very good.
The question now turns to what is next. Santana is owed roughly $46 million more over the next season and three-quarters. That's elite pitcher money, and while he looks like an elite pitcher so far this year, he still missed the entire 2011 season with a right shoulder injury. He's become the personification of high-risk/high-reward - he could be the best pitcher on a championship team, or he could break.
I do believe that Santana will be traded. The Mets are not going to compete this year, and probably will not next year. The Mets need to begin rebuilding their organization in earnest, and the Alderson/DePodesta team inspires much more confidence than previous regimes. As far as destination spots, the usual suspects are there. The Red Sox and Yankees both have miserable starting pitching, and may be willing to take on his contract. However, I'm going to suggest that Santana ends up with a less likely suitor in the same division: the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Blue Jays, who lost out in their pursuit of Yu Darvish, have the money to spend, and the prospects to deal. They have a significant interest in making a deal as well - with a second wild card added, it's hard to picture the Jays being out of contention. Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow have pitched well, but adding a top starter would really make them a serious contender. They play excellent defense and have significant power. Jose Bautista will NOT have a .177 BABIP this season (correcting his BABIP up to .304 would give him a season line of .279/.391/.452). Furthermore, unlike the Yankees and Red Sox, selling out the Skydome can be a goal for the Jays in this playoff-starved city. With the Raptors an afterthought, and a Maple Leafs team that locals would love an excuse to not think about for a summer, the Toronto sports scene is ripe for the plucking. Usually I'm against deals meant to "create excitement" but the advantage here is higher than usual. A move would send a clear sign that this Blue Jays team is not content to play for third place.
Alex Anthropoulos has gained a reputation as a shrewd GM, Mike Napoli for Frank Francisco aside. The Mets would not be able to rip him off. However, Anthropoulos also doesn't seem to be scared of taking a risk. Santana would seem like a sensible one.
As far as the Mets are concerned, they may be able to get a better haul for Santana in 2012 than Omar Minaya gave up for him after the 2007. Read that last sentence again, and you'll probably understand why the Twins stink right now.