PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Johan Santana ducked into the shade of the dugout at Tradition Field, where he settled into his seat and joked with a few familiar faces Tuesday. It has been five years since Santana signed a six-year, $137.5-million deal to join the Mets, who believed that they had landed a bona fide ace.
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It hasn't quite worked out that way.
Which is why Santana arrived here for perhaps the final time as a Met trailed by questions about his future.
Will he play for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic?
Will he stay healthy for the first time in years?
Will he be traded before season's end?
"There's a lot of things in this game that you can't control," he said. "That's one of them."
Few understand the concept as well as Santana, who hasn't pitched 200 innings in a season since 2008, his first with the Mets. At 33, more than two years removed from major shoulder surgery, Santana refused to to put a target on how many innings he'll throw this year. His ambitions are even less concrete.
"To me, what's important right now is to stay healthy," said Santana, whom the Mets are leaning on to front a rotation without Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey. "Being able to go out there every five games, that's what I wanted to do. And I'm hoping to do it throughout the whole season."
Health is the biggest issue he faces. It likely will determine whether he pitches next month in the WBC, which is still his desire. And it likely will shape whether the Mets wind up with the option to trade him midseason.
For now, Santana insists he's ready to rebound from another injury-shortened campaign.
Santana punctuated his return from shoulder surgery last season by throwing the first no-hitter in Mets history on June 1. However, the milestone came with a price. By August, various nagging injuries prompted the Mets to shut down Santana, who finished 6-9 with a 4.85 ERA in 117 innings over 21 appearances.
The lefthander is guaranteed another $31 million, including a $5.5-million buyout that would allow the Mets to cut ties with Santana at season's end. But for now, Santana's focus is on short-term issues, such as whether he'll successfully be insured to compete in the WBC.
"A lot of things have to be in place for me to participate," said Santana, who acknowledged that he'd listen if the Mets expressed any objections.
As far as preparations, Santana said he has prepared this winter on his normal schedule, as opposed to using the offseason for grueling rehab. That meant extra time to simply let himself heal.
"The rest did him good," said Mets manager Terry Collins, who on Tuesday named Santana the Mets' Opening Day starter, just as he was last season.
Santana likely won't begin throwing off a mound for a few more days. But when he does, he plans on having no limitations.
Said Santana: "I'm expecting everything to be normal."