A looming Stro/Thor dilemma
The Mets are unlikely to re-sign both. Whom should they choose?
This off-season, the Mets approached extending potential free agents like someone who prefers to eat only one thing on their plate at a time, before moving onto the next item. Rather than eat some salad, some soup, a bite of potato and a piece of bread, the Mets focused entirely on finishing their Francisco Lindor salad first. By the time they finished that part of the meal, and moved onto the Michael Conforto soup, the season had started (in this tortured metaphor, that's the equivalent to the server putting the bill on your table).
All of this means that the Conforto soup, Noah Syndergaard potato and Marcus Stroman bread never got touched. Which is where we are now: Lindor is signed for a decade, but the three others remain on the board.
So what happens next? When the front office backed away from signing outfielder George Springer, you kind of got the feeling it was saving its resources for Conforto. And there still should be time to get that done.
But the question that really got pushed to the side was what to do with the free agent pitchers, Syndergaard and Stroman. There's good reason for this. First, the Mets already have four starters (and potentially five, depending on your view of Joey Lucchesi) under team control through next season: Jacob deGrom, Carlos Carrasco, Taijuan Walker and David Peterson. So the need to lock down another starter did not seem imminent or imperative.
Another reason to hold off on this decision (beyond the usual wisdom of proceeding with caution when it comes to pitching) was the specific circumstances of Noah and Stro. The former is coming off of major surgery and hasn't pitched since 2019. And the latter opted out last year due to COVID-19, and had just surprised the franchise by accepting its qualifying offer.
For those who did discuss extending a pitcher, the conversation seemed to default to Syndergaard. He's been with the organization since 2012, pitched for the big-league club as far back as 2015, gotten its only World Series win in two decades, and started on Opening Day in 2018, to name a few highlights. For his part, Stroman showed some modest reasons for optimism in limited action in 2019, but had very little history with the team.
But now it's fair to wonder: Should this conversation be shifting?
You never want to get too excited over a small sample. But here's where we are now: Syndergaard is still more than a month away from throwing a pitch in a game. And Stroman has dazzled. Again, it's only three starts plus an impressive spring training, so let's not go crazy. But something you have to like about the Long Island native -- that isn't ephemeral or subject to regression -- is his commitment to improve.
As we've previously discussed, Stroman worked during his hiatus to develop a new pitch, a split-change he worked on with Robert Gsellman last summer. The right-hander explained to Rob Friedman of Pitching Ninja that he learned to grip it by using pressure from his ring finger upon release to create movement. The pitch now enables him to include three plus offerings that can be used in all counts.
He's also worked with a mental skills coach, speaking often about his work on mental preparation and focus.
None of this is to disparage Syndergaard, who could dominate when he returns mid-season. He's been a stopper when healthy, a fan favorite who clearly loves New York. He's also two years younger than Stroman (though he’s shown himself to be more injury prone).
Ultimately, you'd love to have them both. But with an impressive amount of starting rotation depth, it's hard to see the club springing for two new large contracts for starters when it already has a number of them under control. Even Steve Cohen has his limits.
Which means the Mets could also choose to part ways with both. If they wanted to shop for quality in free agency (without having to guarantee long term contracts), there will be plenty of older starters out there including former Cy Young winners Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, and Max Scherzer, who might be signable to shorter term deals.
But if the front office does want to re-sign one of the current Mets starters, an interesting decision will face it over the coming months: As it arranges its 2022 meal, does it want potato, or bread?
It likely won’t be both.