Is it evil for Mets fans to hope Johan Santana finds his pre-surgery greatness while secretly wishing he's gone by the trading deadline? Forget the guilt – those conflicting fantasies are part of the 2013 business plan, as the Wilpon family seeks an exit strategy from Santana's monstrous $25 million salary.

To say the Mets would welcome a phone call from, say, the Angels or Dodgers or Rangers – someone, anyone, just bring money — is only the G-rated version of the truth. Santana is in the final year of his contract, and no one in the Mets' family speaks of him returning in 2014. So, one way or another, the great left-hander's run in Flushing is nearing its conclusion, either this summer or next winter.

But two obstacles stand in the way of the economic relief the Mets need. The first is the condition of Santana's arm, which remains a mystery following the abrupt end to his 2012 season. No GM would even contemplate acquiring Santana without proof that he's healthy – a process that'll take several months. Secondly, Sandy Alderson, the ultimate realist, knows any team willing to take a chance on Santana would do so on their terms, not the Mets'. That means the Wilpons would be forced to eat most of Santana's salary.

Even so, any savings would be welcome, if you think of Santana's earnings as a sunken cost, money that'll never be recouped. It remains to be seen whether ownership will reinvest that $25 million next year, but in the meantime, a trade in any form, no matter how financially lopsided, would land the Mets a few more prospects. And isn't that what everyone in Flushing is waiting for, the

emerging talent in 2014 and beyond?

Of course, the Mets can't actually admit to this, not while they're still trying to sell tickets for 2013. Alderson is compelled to say, as he did in a telephone conversation this week, "We expect a fuller and more productive season out of Johan."

Fair enough: For the first time since 2008, Santana is enjoying a normal off-season, free from the post-surgery rehab programs of the previous four years. He's relaxing at home in Fort Myers, Fla., and following a Christmas visit to relatives in Venezuela, will begin a throwing program this month in Port St. Lucie, Fla.