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There was a time when the name “Johan Santana” would frequently be mentioned as one of the top pitchers in baseball. Time and stress on the arm, however, have taken their toll on the 34-year-old two-time Cy Young Award winner, and he’ll really never be the same.

He was shut down last season in August with lower back inflammation, and that was only a few months after recovering from shoulder surgery.
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Photo by Keith Allison, used under creative commons license.

Mets fans will always remember him for pitching the first no-hitter in franchise history. He threw 137 pitches in that game, and it’s possible that the performance was a key factor in limiting his performance for the rest of the season.

When he’s been healthy in New York, he’s been very productive, pitching to 46-34 record and 3.18 ERA. These numbers might not be the ace-type numbers he put up in Minnesota, but he gave the Mets a chance to win in the majority of his starts.

However, had it not been for the no-hitter, Santana’s Mets legacy would have been overly clouded by his high-price tag and lack of consistency. He signed a six-year, $138 million contract prior to the 2008 season. He only made 30-plus starts once in five seasons, and he missed the entire 2011 campaign.

This season is the last of that huge contract, but Santana will be earning $25.5 million. There is very little chance that his performance this season matches that salary.

While he wants to start Opening Day, he still has not pitched in a game this spring. He wanted to pitch for his native Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, but the Mets have too much invested for him to potentially get hurt.

The Mets are likely hoping that whenever he is healthy, Santana regains at least some of his old form. He would be helping the Mets win ballgames, but more importantly he would be showcasing to other teams that he still has a little bit left in the tank.

When the trade deadline rolls around -- or even sooner -- the Mets could trade Santana for a prospect or two, since he will in no way be back with the team in 2014.

New York was able to acquire top prospect Zack Wheeler in a summer trade for Carlos Beltran with the San Francisco Giants in 2011. Wheeler is on the fast track to the Major Leagues, while Beltran wound up signing with the St. Louis Cardinals for the 2012 season.

It’s unlikely the Mets get a prospect of Wheeler’s caliber in any trade for Santana. But even if the team can get a bullpen arm or a decent prospect, it would be better than nothing.

If he stays healthy, Santana may latch on somewhere else, but the Mets are ready to move on. In fact, the only reason he’s still around is that the Mets are tied down by that contract. The team can only hope that he starts the year healthy, even if that means skipping Opening Day.

The Mets have the young arms waiting. Now they just have to wait out the departure of the oldest one.