It is clear to me now, as if it wasn’t before that the Mets ace, Johan Santana was using steroids in the early portion of his career. How do you go from being a Rule V draft pick in 1999 to getting a contract that pays about $23 million per season? How did he go from being a mediocre reliever to an All-Star caliber pitcher who won two Cy Young Awards? Please don’t tell me it was because he watched game-tape.

As a rookie during the 2000 season, Santana pitched to a 6.49 ERA in 86 appearances coming out of the bullpen. His stuff wasn’t nearly as good as it would become, seemingly overnight. So when he made his heralded return to the majors after being sent down to work on his change-up, he worked in the bullpen for half the year. He was made a starter and then started dominating the opposition.

He won his first Cy Young Award after the 2004 season in which he went 20-6 with a 2.61 ERA and 265 strikeouts. Wowie! Where did that come from? A 95 mph fastball, a hard slider, and a ridiculous change-up that left even the A-Rod’s of the world looking silly. Some pretty strong stuff for a guy who led the MLB in wild pitches only a few years before.

2005 and 2006 brought more of the same and before you know it, Johan finally got out of small-market Minnesota and right into the Big Apple to play for the Mets. The only reason the Twins decided to dump the best pitcher they had since Bert Blyleven, was because they couldn’t afford him. In the trade they made with the Mets, the Twins got relative garbage that never really amounted to anything, while the Mets got the best pitcher in the game.

From a guy who threw 95 mph during his peak years with the Twins to a guy who now throws 91 tops, it appears something has gone wrong. Despite the fact the Johan has pitched pretty well with some lackluster performances from his team, it seems as if something has gone awry. From surgery on his pitching elbow in 2009 to his now shoulder surgery in 2010, something bad is brewing.

Whether that means the Mets training staff is incapable of preventing injury or Santana stopped using some sort of performance-enhancers, it appears the 31-year-old’s body is breaking down rather quickly. Losing velocity on all of his pitches and breaking down year after year has me losing my faith in the ace of the staff.

Johan is nowhere near the pitcher that made him the highest paid pitcher in MLB history (for a year until CC Sabathia’s contract in 2009). His dominance: Extinguished. The Mets need to start looking for a new ace because I think Johan’s time has expired.

I just hope that his body is breaking down through natural wear-and-tear and not because he was injecting himself with needles earlier in his career. Maybe the Mets training staff just sucks.

Either way, Johan is not the same pitcher from 2004 or 2006 and frankly, that scares me.

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