keyboard_arrow_uptop

Last offseason, the Mets caused a minor tiff with R.A. Dickey, when the team sent its ace a letter asking him to shelve an off-season plan to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Any lingering hard feelings from that incident—which did not deter the knuckleballer’s ascent—disappeared during Dickey’s Cy Young award-winning 2012 campaign, long before he was shipped to the Blue Jays. But, 15 months later, the Mets once again find themselves in hot water with the top starter on their depth chart.

Johan Santana is not happy with the Mets
This time, the pitcher in question is Santana, who, according to New York Daily News columnist John Harper, “remains bitter” about a recent disagreement surrounding his readiness to return to the mound. What, exactly, is ailing the veteran left-hander remains unclear.

Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal summed up the situation in the headline of a recent article: The Mets’ Uninjured Ace Who Still Can’t Pitch. General manager Sandy Alderson told reporters earlier this month that when Santana reported to spring training, he “wasn’t ready to throw,”  because of fatigue in his shoulder that the team claims has not yet subsided. Santana, who turns 34 tomorrow, took exception to that evaluation and decided to prove Alderson wrong by throwing a bullpen session—which did not sit well with manager Terry Collins. The skipper indicated that even if Santana’s thrice-adjusted Grapefruit League schedule leaves him unprepared to take the mound on Opening Day, he could return shortly after April 1, which would have almost no adverse effect on the still-rebuilding Mets.

In most cases, that assessment—and the Mets’ willingness to let Santana work out on his own schedule—would have satisfied all parties. But Santana, who is owed $25.5 million in the last guaranteed year of his six-year, $137.5 million contract, still has a bone to pick. Harper tweeted on Tuesday that the lefty is “barely communicating with club officials,” and his Daily News colleague, Andy Martino, added that the sides would need time to smooth things over. There is no reason, at this point, to believe that the relationship is irreparable, but the latest reports from Port St. Lucie further diminish the already-small probability that Santana could toe the Citi Field rubber for the home opener against the Padres.

Were the situation to deteriorate, the Mets would need to eat a significant portion of Santana’s salary in order to assemble any trade suitors. Santana has relatively little value to the Mets, who almost certainly will decline his $25 million club option for the 2014 season, but since that option carries a $5.5 million buyout, he is guaranteed to collect $31 million before the deal runs out.

For now, the most probable end to this saga still has Santana rejoining the Mets before the end of April. But if Harper and Martino’s tweets are an accurate barometer of Santana’s anger, then there may well be another plot twist or two along the way.

Zack Greinke’s injury could slow Dodgers’ trade talks
Out west, the Dodgers dodged a bullet when an MRI on their number-two starter’s right elbow showed no signs of ligament damage. Dr. Neal ElAttrache diagnosed Greinke with inflammation, and the righty is expected to resume his normal throwing program after 2-3 days, assuming that the platelet-rich injection he received relieves the discomfort. 

We should find out soon whether the minor setback is expected to threaten Greinke’s readiness for the beginning of the regular season, but in the meantime, it could alter general manager Ned Colletti’s roster plans. After adding Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, and—at least for now—retaining trade candidates Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, and Ted Lilly, the Dodgers have nearly enough starters to fill two rotations and three too many for a standard five-man crew.

The Greinke scare, however, is just another reminder that you can never have too much pitching, and since every win could matter in a tight National League West race, Colletti might opt to horde his rotation options until later this month. Lilly, whom Zachary Levine mentioned in his January 30 article on sunk costs and who is due $12 million this year, is a safe bet to be exported before the season starts. Aaron Harang, who was scouted by the Orioles earlier this month, also seems likely to be donning a new uniform come April, unless the Dodgers choose to employ him as an expensive, replacement-level swingman. But teams chasing Chris Capuano, the most dependable of the three spare arms, could find Colletti dragging his feet.

Later on Monday, Ryu coughed up three runs in 4 2/3 innings to a Ryan Braun-less Brewers lineup, and the Korean import’s projected rotation spot could be in limbo, too. If Capuano, who has served up four homers and allowed seven total runs in five innings this spring, bounces back to challenge his fellow lefty for the fifth-starter job, Colletti might prefer to wait for the competition to play out before resolving the glut.