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mets countdown

Mets Countdown: No. 4, Johan Santana

The start of the baseball season is less than a month away. Every weekday until opening day, we'll be counting down, from No. 20 to No. 1, the most important Mets players for the upcoming 2010 slate. Today, No. 4, pitcher Johan Santana.

No matter what else happens with the Mets this season, even if Jose Reyes's ears fall off and David Wright is stricken with rickets, if Johan Santana can stay healthy, this Mets team will have an inherent advantage over their opponents every fifth day. Johan Santana isn't quite as dominant as he was in his Pedro-esque days with Minnesota, but he's close. This is one of the best five pitchers in baseball. If he is 100 percent, he is the best thing the Mets have going.

So, is he 100 percent? He had off-season surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow, which while not ideal, is not the most destructive procedure. He's looked solid enough this spring, which is to say, he can straighten out his arm, something he couldn't do much last year. Santana was outstanding in his first ten starts last year, but struggled late. (By "struggled," we mean "put up a 4.02 ERA," which is a mark the Mets would gleefully take from any of their other four starters.) Was it the elbow, or Santana starting to recede from his epic peak? Everyone's claiming the former.

Santana doesn't necessarily have to be JOHAN SANTANA every game for the Mets to improve; he just needs to be the stable presence on the staff, with flashes of occasional brilliance. When the Mets traded for Santana, and then re-signed him, they imagined him as the postseason ace they desperately needed. With four years left on the contract, with $22.9 million, they owe it to him, and themselves, to actually get him to a postseason game to pitch in. The clock is ticking.

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Photo: Doug Benc/Getty Images