Now, for the first time since that February morning in 2008, Santana is not a Met. The team on Friday officially declined the $25 million option on his contract, paying him a $5.5 million buyout instead.
The move made Santana a free agent for the first time, four months shy of his 35th birthday. It also wrapped up his Mets career with a 46-34 record and a 3.18 ERA over parts of four seasons.
Yet those numbers hardly tell the full story. Santana joined the Mets following a September collapse in 2007, in a trade with Minnesota for outfielder Carlos Gomez and right-handed pitchers Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra. (The Mets subsequently signed Santana to a six-year contract.) Santana was supposed to put them over the top -- and he nearly did, pitching a three-hitter on the penultimate day of the '08 season to keep New York's dimming playoff hopes alive. But the Mets missed the postseason, and have not made it there since.
In 2009, Santana began showing the first effects of age, losing nearly a full mile per hour off his fastball. Yet the left-hander's changeup was still as good as ever, until elbow surgery sidelined him for the season's final six weeks.
It was the second straight winter that Santana spent rehabbing from surgery, and it would not be the last. A year later, Santana tore the anterior capsule in his left shoulder, missing the end of the 2010 season and all of '11. He did not return until Opening Day 2012, giving the Mets one last highlight with the first no-hitter in franchise history on June 1. But multiple nagging injuries caught up to Santana by midsummer, and with the Mets out of contention, he decided to cut short his season in August.
This year, finally, was supposed to be a healthy one for Santana, until the lefty discovered in Spring Training that he had re-tore his anterior shoulder capsule. That resulted in yet another surgery, effectively ending his Mets career.
"I'm not a doctor or a medical historian, but these injuries are very difficult to recover from," general manager Sandy Alderson said at the time.
These days, Santana is keeping a low profile as he attempts to work his way back from surgery. He began throwing a baseball last month, and he hopes to hook on with a big league team at some point next summer, according to agent Chris Leible. Outside of a few Twitter posts, Santana has not spoken publicly since March.
Alderson acknowledged recently that a reunion with the Mets is possible, and Santana's camp has not ruled it out. But even if Santana does return, he will be an older, likely diminished pitcher.
Santana's legacy in Flushing will instead center upon what he's done, and what he has not.