Johan three weeks into throwing program
GM Alderson says lefty is in a normal progression for spring
NEW YORK -- Mets pitcher Johan Santana is three weeks into his normal offseason throwing program, general manager Sandy Alderson said Thursday, throwing off flat ground on consecutive days from a distance of 75 feet.
Santana is now 16 months removed from the left shoulder surgery that forced him to miss all of last season.
"He's in a normal progression for Spring Training," Alderson said on a conference call Thursday to introduce new relievers Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch. "We expect to see him in Spring Training, and he should be ready to go at that point."
Though reports toward the end of last summer suggested that Santana was close to regaining his old form and velocity, the true test will be his ability to recover between outings as he settles back into a five-day schedule. Alderson raised eyebrows last month when he called Santana "a question mark" heading into Spring Training, given the struggles of similar pitchers who have undergone anterior shoulder capsule surgery -- most notably Mark Prior and Chien-Ming Wang.
"I didn't want to set off alarms the last time I talked about this, but we are talking about somebody who's coming off a long rehab," Alderson said. "I think ultimately the questions are going to be answered in Spring Training, not beforehand."
Santana, whom the Mets owe no less than $54.5 million over the next three years, has compiled a 40-25 record and 2.85 ERA in three seasons since joining the club. He is scheduled to report to Spring Training on or before Feb. 20, the deadline for Mets pitchers and catchers.
Francisco, Rauch not concerned with their roles
NEW YORK -- Though the Mets made it clear last month that Frank Francisco will be the team's new closer and Jon Rauch its setup man, those two are not ready to commit to bullpen roles just yet.
"I just want to pitch," Rauch said during an introductory conference call Thursday. "I don't care in what capacity, in what role. I just want to be given the ball and an opportunity to pitch and contribute and help the team."
"I don't care if it's the eighth inning, ninth inning," Francisco agreed. "In any situation, I want them to think about me."
Teammates in Toronto last season, those two swapped roles throughout the summer until Rauch underwent season-ending knee surgery, from which he is fully recovered. Though both have equal experience closing out games, Francisco is coming off a stronger season that landed him a two-year, $12 million deal, as opposed to Rauch's one-year, $3.5 million pact. Manager Terry Collins said at the Winter Meetings that he would like to establish a bullpen hierarchy heading into Spring Training.
"We're happy to have both of them," general manager Sandy Alderson said. "I think as a result of adding these two guys, we do have quality and depth that perhaps we were missing last year. Together with the people we have coming back, I think the bullpen can be a real asset for us."
Mets issuing blood tests for free-agent signees
NEW YORK -- Former Mets catcher Ronny Paulino's blood issues last year have prompted the organization to reassess its standard medical practices when signing free agents.
Beginning last month with relievers Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch, and continuing this week with outfielder Scott Hairston, the Mets are subjecting free-agent signees to a full physical complete with blood testing, as opposed to a simple orthopedic examination.
Previously, the Mets had put off blood testing for free agents until February, when all players annually undergo a complete examination upon arriving at Spring Training. But last year, two months after Paulino signed with the Mets for a guaranteed $1.3 million and passed an orthopedic physical, his Spring Training exam revealed that he was suffering from the blood disorder anemia. Paulino spent almost a full month on the disabled list.
"I don't know if it's something every club does," Alderson said of the team's new practice, "but I think it makes sense to do it with regard to free agents where we don't have a complete or direct medical history or medical association with the player. That's the reason we're doing it."
As Alderson noted, it is exceedingly rare for blood tests to detect irregularities in otherwise-healthy professional athletes. But if there is a small chance of something being wrong -- as was the case for Paulino -- the Mets feel it is worth a little extra due diligence upfront.
"It just makes sense to get it all done and out of the way prior to the contract being guaranteed," Alderson said. "I think it's prudent to do."
No changes in pursuit of minority owners
NEW YORK -- Nothing has changed regarding the Mets' pursuit of minority owners, general manager Sandy Alderson said Thursday, meaning the team still expects to close on the first of its sales by the end of this month.
Alderson said last month that the Mets anticipate selling at least a handful of $20 million stakes in the team by the end of January, in an effort to generate enough liquidity to pay back multiple outstanding loans and cover 2012 operating expenses. Previously, the Mets had considered selling a single larger minority stake to hedge-fund manager David Einhorn, but the two sides broke off talks in September.
"There's nothing that I said in those other areas at Christmas that has changed, from my standpoint," Alderson said Thursday. "What I expect to do as we go forward here is focus on the team, which I think is most important from my standpoint. That's my area of responsibility, so I'm going to try to limit myself to that."