Santana's second season with the Mets ended with a 13-9 record and a 3.13 ERA in 25 starts. After a blistering first two months of the season that saw him go 7-2 with a 1.77 mark and an average of nearly nine strikeouts per start, Santana was just 6-7 with a 4.02 ERA since the beginning of June.
Such numbers, however, never prompted concern within the Mets' organization. It was not until Santana complained of elbow discomfort after his last start -- one in which he allowed three runs over seven innings -- that the club took action with their $137.5 million investment.
"We would all love to see Johan Santana here in September," Mets general manager Omar Minaya said during a conference call. "But it's a wise decision. We want to see Johan Santana for the long haul"
Rather than travel with the team to Miami, Santana stayed in New York to visit with Mets medical director Dr. David Altchek, who determined that the bone chips in Santana's arm were beginning to float into harmful areas of the elbow. Rather than risk further injury to a pitcher with five full seasons remaining on his contract, the Mets decided to proceed with "minor" -- but nonetheless season-ending -- arthroscopic surgery.
"He never really complained until that last game," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "It was manageable, and he managed it very well until he mentioned it. And then he said, 'Well, let's make sure, let's take a look.'"
The Mets, however, admitted Tuesday that they had known about the bone chips in Santana's elbow as far back as the All-Star break, when Santana underwent a similar examination. Because Santana felt no pain at that time, and because the chips were not in a "dangerous area," the team opted to let Santana pitch -- despite the fact that both his velocity and control were suffering.
Even Manuel said he was unaware of the scope of the situation until Santana began complaining after his most recent start.
"It really didn't bother him," pitching coach Dan Warthen said. "He was able to pitch a couple of different times. The last few, you could see the velocity going down and you're starting to concern yourself. Johan never ever says anything about his own physical pain, but he finally came clean and said, 'This thing is kind of bugging me.'"
The pain, Warthen said, was unrelated to the elbow discomfort Santana felt in Spring Training, when the Mets scheduled an MRI but never followed through with it. When asked about the relation between that issue -- which threatened Santana's Opening Day start -- and the left-hander's current woes, Minaya said he could not recall Santana's Spring Training health problems. Minaya also did not know what Santana's All-Star break examination had revealed.
Much of the Mets' inaction had to do with the fact that according to Manuel and Minaya, Santana remained quiet despite his discomfort. As early as July, however, people within the organization were aware of Santana's problem.
"The medical staff knew exactly what was going on," Santana said.
Santana also said that if the Mets were in a pennant race, he "no question" would have remained on the active roster, pitching every five days. That should come as little surprise, considering Santana's history. Last season, the Mets announced that Santana had been pitching with a torn meniscus in his left knee only after the season ended.
"I don't want to get shut down at all," Santana said. "If it would have been a different situation, I would have kept pitching."
The operation, which Manuel likened to a "vacuum cleaner," will remove the bone chips from his elbow and allow him to pitch normally again. It is not similar to the surgery that reliever J.J. Putz had earlier this season -- rather than floating chips, Putz had a bone spur that broke off and needed to be removed.
Santana underwent an identical bone chip removal after the 2003 season, then went on to win the first of his two American League Cy Young Awards in '04.
Even so, any surgery is harrowing for a player whom the Mets signed to a seven-year, $137.5 million contract prior to the 2008 season. Since that time, Santana has been one of the best pitchers in the National League, despite low run support limiting his win totals.
He is not, however, immune to the injuries that have ravaged the Mets.
The team's disabled list now includes Santana, Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, David Wright and seven others -- almost all of whom are definitely or likely out for the season. In addition, Oliver Perez is currently in New York for medical reasons, meaning Mike Pelfrey is now the only pitcher from the Opening Day rotation still with the team.
In the team's projected starting lineup, only Luis Castillo and Daniel Murphy remain.
To fill the holes created by Santana and Billy Wagner, who was traded earlier in the day, the Mets on Tuesday recalled left-hander Pat Misch and first baseman Nick Evans from Triple-A Buffalo.
Try as anyone might, though, it will be exceedingly difficult to replace the production of one of the most talented pitchers in the game.
"I'm disappointed, because I wanted to keep pitching and help my team," Santana said. "But at the same time, I'm relieved, because I know that everything has been clarified and it's not the worst."