Here's an idea: Mets should trade Santana

By all accounts, the Mets are getting closer to wrapping their long, desperate tentacles around Jason Bay, but they’re keeping their options open in case he bolts to the mystery team that’s (supposedly) offering a five-year deal.


Plan B is Matt Holliday, who’s probably using the Mets to scare up the Cardinals, his first choice all along.


Plan C? Here’s a suggestion: ask if anyone’s interested in Johan Santana.


Of course, the Wilpon family will do no such thing. They invested $137.5 million in the great lefthander and aren’t about to admit failure. But the current Mets core is beginning Year 5 of a golden era that wasn’t and considering how poorly Omar Minaya has done this winter, the drought isn’t about to end.


Even if the Mets do sign Bay, he won’t make them as good as the Phillies, who are a lock to take the East for the third straight year. The Mets would be better off measuring themselves against the Braves, who have better pitching and a better manager.


In fact, even the wild card is a long shot right now, so instead of continuing to over-spend on B-level free agents ($21 million for Bengie Molina? Really?) the Mets need to think about draft picks again. They need to address their bankrupt minor league system. They need to take advantage of their current invisibility and build towards a sensible, three-year reconstruction plan.


They can do it by letting other GMs know that Santana is available.


It’s true, dealing the franchise’s best pitcher would be tantamount to surrender. But it would be at least be an honest admission to fans, who’ve grown weary of the all the disappointment. One club official recently admitted season ticket sales are slow, adding. “hardly anyone is showing up for the tours (of Citi Field).


“There’s supposed to be 50 people (in every tour), we’re hardly getting 10,” he said. The public is waiting for a reason to plunk down hard-earned money during the holiday season. The Mets had one legitimate shot at improving themselves this winter and saw it vanish when John Lackey signed with the Red Sox.


Actually, Roy Halladay would’ve been the magic bullet, but the Mets, with nothing to trade, never got past the velvet rope with the Jays. Now, the back of the rotation is a billboard of under-achievement, featuring Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez and John Maine.


Santana was supposed to deliver the Mets a pennant when he signed in 2007, so in a sense he has failed them. But it’s the Mets who are the guilty party; they’ve sabotaged Santana from Day 1.


They’ve given him no help with pitchers who’ve either been injured (Maine), have regressed (Pelfrey) or were never worth the money (Perez, $36 million for three years).


So the Mets can do themselves (and Santana) a favor by exploring a trade. This isn’t to say the market would jump at the chance. To the contrary: Santana is owed $21 million this year, which means there’s only a handful of teams who could afford him -- the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels -- and even they aren’t willing to spend that much.


What’s crazy is that Santana isn’t even viewed as the elite pitcher he was two years ago. Despite being two years younger than Roy Halladay, Santana wouldn’t command the same contract as the Phillies’ new ace. Not now, not after elbow surgery cut short his 2008 season. Not after two years of disappointing results by his Mets’ teammates.


Still, the Mets have to make peace with the idea that the Santana experiment has failed, just as the Carlos Beltran, Pedro Martinez and Billy Wagner gambles all turned to vapor. Yet, they continue to chase The Next Great Star as if this was 2006 and they were one player away from greatness.


This long, flat road to nowhere will probably cost Jerry Manuel his job this summer. Minaya is on the hot seat, too. Both men are victims of Jeff Wilpon’s hyper-sensitivity to the public’s voice. The Mets have over-paid time and again for their free agents, leaving the franchise top-heavy, and burdened with contracts they can’t move.


Actually if the Mets were capable of making a cold business decision, they’d even dangle David Wright and Jose Reyes. Wright, in particular, could bring a bundle of prospects in return -- and who knows, he might just welcome a trade since he’s playing in a new ballpark he obviously hates.


Citi Field is 37 feet deeper in right-center than at Shea, and ownership made matters worse by announcing the dimensions won’t change next season.


But the Mets could never part with either Wright or Reyes. They’re home-grown talent; the emotional attachment is too strong. Santana’s place in the Met family is cemented only by cash.


The Wilpons would have to eat some of that money to trade him, but it’s a scenario worth considering as the Mets keep pretending it’s still 2006 and winning the World Series is just a matter of writing one more check.


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