VIERA, Fla. -- Johan Santana, a two-time Cy Young Award winner and the first pitcher to have authored a no-hitter in a Mets uniform, may have thrown the final pitch of his illustrious career.
Santana faces his second major surgery in the last three years after an MRI on Wednesday revealed a probable tear in the anterior capsule in his left shoulder. It is the same injury that already put his career in jeopardy.
The lefthander missed 19 months, including the entire 2011 season, recovering from his first capsule surgery. For Santana to return, he would have to once again rehab from a complicated procedure that only a select few have endured even once.
General manager Sandy Alderson said Santana almost certainly will be lost for the year -- his final season under a six-year, $137.5-million contract with the Mets -- though the general manager stopped short of forecasting an end to the pitcher's career.
"Johan has had an exceptional career,'' said Alderson, who announced the news on a conference call Thursday night. "We all hope that career will continue. I think there's still questions that have to be answered with respect to the injury and how it's going to be addressed. So until we have better information about his prognosis and his ability to return to pitching, I'll defer that question.''
Santana was never the same upon his return last season from surgery, though for one improbable night at Citi Field, the lefthander flashed his previous greatness. Though he taxed his body, needing 134 pitches to complete the feat, Santana no-hit the Cardinals on June 1. But after that night, Santana's effectiveness sagged, eventually prompting the Mets to end his season in August.
The 34-year-old Santana hoped an offseason of rest might prepare his body for the grind of spring training. Instead, he arrived at camp unprepared to pitch, the start of what became a five-week saga regarding his health. Criticism from team officials triggered a messy public dispute that escalated when Santana threw a surprise bullpen session -- seemingly out of his desire to prove his health.
Throughout it all, the Mets insisted that Santana's shoulder was structurally sound, an assertion based on an exam early in spring.
The 15 pitches he threw on a bullpen mound that morning almost certainly will be his last as a member of the Mets.
"We don't know when it happened, how it happened,'' Alderson said. "But what we do know is that at some point symptoms appeared and they worsened rather than improved.''
Alderson acknowledged that the Mets' starting rotation is "not terribly deep'' with Santana out indefinitely and righthander Shaun Marcum still in doubt to start the season on time. Nevertheless, he ruled out adding any pitchers, at least for now. Nor is he considering the option of having top prospect Zack Wheeler start the season in the majors.
"We would not be in the market for additional pitching,'' Alderson said. "We think what we have will suffice us.''
As for Santana, Alderson said the pitcher intends to take the weekend mulling over his next move, though the general manager said a second surgery is "a strong possibility.'' Whatever the pitcher decides, the Mets are on the hook for the remaining $25.5 million on his contract and an additional $5.5- million buyout for 2014.