PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Safety first for Johan Santana.
The New York Mets ace will be held out of the second World Baseball Classic following offseason knee surgery, leaving Venezuela without one of its biggest stars.
The Venezuelan Baseball Federation announced Friday that Santana won't pitch in next month's tournament, a move that had been expected. Still, it surely came as a disappointment to fans in his baseball-crazy country.
The decision was made by the commissioner's office and the players' association, as joint organizers of the WBC. The group, called World Baseball Classic Inc., recently compiled a list of major leaguers who had offseason surgery and hadn't yet returned to action -- by playing winter ball, for example.
Organizers told each federation that players on the list, including Santana, would not be eligible for the WBC because the cost of insuring them was too high.
Santana underwent arthroscopic surgery Oct. 1 on torn cartilage in his left knee.
"It puts him in a high-risk category," Venezuelan Baseball Federation president Edwin Zerpa said.
Santana had said he'd love to play in the WBC but would leave the decision up to the Mets, who were not expected to clear him under such a scenario. In the end, however, it wasn't their call.
So the two-time Cy Young Award winner will spend spring training with his New York teammates, tuning up at a steady pace rather than trying to pitch Venezuela to an international title.
He reported early to camp and tested his knee twice this week with a pair of bullpen sessions, saying he felt fine.
"It's a very important season for us and I'm a very important part of this team," Santana said Tuesday. "I'm not going to do anything crazy."
Santana was 16-7 with a major league-best 2.53 ERA and 206 strikeouts in 234 1/3 innings last season after the Mets acquired him from Minnesota in a trade. He completed the first season of a $137.5 million, six-year contract.
His potential participation in the WBC was a touchy issue back home, where Santana is revered. President Hugo Chavez on Thursday urged major league teams to allow Venezuelan players to represent their country in the Classic.
"They take away the athlete's right and duty ... to represent Venezuela," Chavez said, speaking in Caracas during a ceremony to honor Venezuela's under-20 soccer team. "It's constructive criticism of professional sports."
Santana pitched during the inaugural WBC in 2006, throwing hard in his very first outing. Venezuela was eliminated in the second round.
Several Mets stars are expected to take part in this year's Classic, including David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado and Oliver Perez. New closer Francisco Rodriguez, who set a big league record with 62 saves last season, is slated to be in Venezuela's bullpen.
Rodriguez is due in Mets camp Saturday, and the first official workout for pitchers and catchers is Sunday. But many key players already have arrived, including one of Santana's old pals.
Freddy Garcia showed up Friday and strolled into the outfield to chat with Santana and play catch. The two met at the Houston Astros' academy in Venezuela about 15 years ago and have stayed at each other's homes occasionally when their big league teams squared off.
"Great guy. Great friend," Santana said. "We finally have a chance to wear the same uniform."
An All-Star with Seattle in 2001 and 2002, and a durable starter for the Chicago White Sox from 2004-06, Garcia had serious shoulder surgery in August 2007 and is trying to revitalize his career.
"I'm feeling fine," he said. "I feel like I have a new shoulder. ... I've got to prove I'm 100 percent."
The big right-hander is scheduled for a bullpen session Saturday. He's in camp on a minor league contract loaded with potential bonuses and is expected to compete with Tim Redding and Jon Niese for the No. 5 slot in the rotation.
"I anticipate [being] in the rotation. If not, I've got to go somewhere else," Garcia said. "If I can pitch, I don't have [anything] to do in the minor leagues. I'm too old for that."
In other news, 36-year-old infielder Ramon Martinez agreed to a minor league contract with the Mets that includes an invitation to spring training. He joins Alex Cora and Jose Valentin as players who could challenge Luis Castillo for playing time at second base.
Martinez played for New York last September, making a handful of key starts at second during the final week of the season. He finished 4-for-16 with a double.