The latest ripple in that saga could force the Mets' hand. Some hours after Santana insisted upon his health, the left-hander assented to an MRI on his ailing back. He will undergo that test on Tuesday, with the results determining if he can start Thursday's game.
"He came in stiffer today than he had been," manager Terry Collins said. "The doctor thought they should take a look at it."
No one in the organization has completely dismissed the possibility of Santana finishing out the season in the rotation, which would result in at least seven more starts. But those involved in the decision process -- namely Santana, Alderson, Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen -- indicated that the Mets are likely to shut down Santana before that point.
"We're in this together," Santana said. "It's not just what I'm thinking or what they're thinking. We have come a long way, and they know that. And I'm very happy with everything that I've been able to accomplish. Even though I've been struggling lately, that doesn't mean that you can't see positives around everything that I have done."
A confluence of factors has led to this juncture. With the Mets out of playoff contention, there is little reason to continue escalating Santana's innings total in his first season back from major shoulder surgery. There is reason to believe Santana could benefit from an extra month of offseason rest, given his 0-5 record and 15.63 ERA over his last five starts, as well as the presence of nagging ankle and back discomfort. There is also value in clearing rotation space for youngsters Jenrry Mejia or Jeurys Familia to make a few starts down the stretch.
But Collins indicated that there is also value in having Santana finish his season on a high note, as well as a practical reason for waiting: If Santana makes his next two starts as scheduled, that would take the Mets to Sept. 1, when they can expand their roster to replace him without playing short-handed.
"The rationale for shutting him down, if we do shut him down, will be that he's accomplished things that we wanted him to accomplish," Collins said. "We got innings that we wanted him to have. We got him to a point that we thought where there's nothing more to gain here and only things to lose. That would be the rationale if the time comes."
Santana began the season better than most anyone expected, going 3-2 with a 2.38 ERA over his first 11 starts while striking out 68 batters in 68 innings. But after throwing a career-high 134 pitches in his no-hitter on June 1 against the Cardinals, the left-hander began scuffling, ultimately landing on the disabled list with an ankle injury. He has not been the same since.
So there is a good chance the Mets shut Santana down in the hope that he can give them a full, healthy, dominant season in 2013. They just will not do so quite yet.
"I've been through a lot this year -- a lot," Santana said. "But I'm still here. To me, that means a lot, and I'm going to continue until they don't want me to."