What Thor’s journey west means for the Mets
Well, maybe it’s not such a great morning if you are a Mets fan who loves Noah Syndergaard. A day after the Mets secured former Angels GM Billy Eppler, the Angels shocked the baseball world by swooping in and signing Syndergaard to a one-year, $21 million contract.
It’s been a while since we last spoke, a lot has happened, but let’s dive right into the Syndergaard news.
How did this happen?
Good question. The Mets extended a qualifying offer worth $18.4 million to Syndergaard, which now grants them a compensatory pick between the second and third rounds of the 2022 MLB Draft (more on this in a bit). But few expected the Mets to turn that qualifying offer into a draft pick; instead, believing Syndergaard would likely accept the offer to pitch on a one-year “prove it” deal with his resident team before re-entering the market next winter.
While the tall, right-hander with a penchant for high fastballs and social-media-inspired book clubs has only pitched two innings over the past two seasons, his upside remains tantalizing. On a short-term deal, there is relatively no risk in seeing what he can do when fully healthy.
Now he is gone, bolting the organization where he blossomed into a name-brand starter to pitch between the long shadows of the Dodgers and Disneyland in sunny California. The Angels are desperate for pitching, and desperation (even before a looming lockout) means throwing $21 million at a pitcher who is coming off a major injury and has draft pick compensation attached to him.
From the Mets’ perspective, it makes you wonder what has transpired since Syndergaard spoke to the media in late September and said, “it would be a tough pill to swallow not wearing a Mets jersey next year.” Was this simply lip service? Or did something go awry during contract negotiations this month? Stating the obvious: it seems odd to part ways over less than $3 million.
It’s possible the Mets were uncomfortable with his health record. Remember, they restricted him from throwing breaking balls at the end of last season. That probably limited how much they were willing to spend to bring him back. In fact, Newsday reports (and Sandy Alderson later confirmed) the Mets never had a chance to make a counter-offer, which suggests Syndergaard knew he had found an offer the Mets wouldn’t match.
All that said, the Mets are a win-now franchise looking to assemble a rotation worthy of competing for a championship. They will face stiff competition to retain Marcus Stroman’s services this winter — if Eduardo Rodriguez fetched $77 million, imagine what Stroman is going to get! Depending on how bullish you are on Carlos Carrasco returning to form, the starting rotation is precariously thin behind Jacob deGrom, whose health was obviously less than pristine this season.
Billy Eppler (who is expected to be officially introduced later this week) has a lot of work to do.
Is there a bright side?
If you like draft picks and prospects, or believe the blame falls on Syndergaard for slighting the Mets over a few million dollars, the bright side is the Mets move into 2022 with a stockpile of draft picks and more money to spend on players who want to be here.
Leaving Michael Conforto’s future aside (the Mets would gain draft pick compensation if he signs somewhere else), the Amazins are poised to have four selections in the first 70-80 picks of the 2022 draft, including the comp pick they receive after the second round for losing Noah:
11th overall (compensation for failing to sign Kumar Rocker)
Second Round Pick (likely in 40-50 range)
Competitive Balance Round B Pick (likely in 70-80 range)
Of course, the Mets could lose draft picks if they end up signing a free agent who received a qualifying offer from another team. But the list of such eligible players is thin.
Money is always a factor, even with Steve Cohen as owner. We are days away from an inevitable lockout during which the owners and players will spend months fighting over a new collective bargaining agreement. Nobody knows what the luxury tax thresholds will look like in a new CBA, or if there will be drastically different rules on spending.
What we do know is that with Robinson Cano’s salary coming back on the books, the Mets have roughly $188 million obligated in salary next season (using MLB Trade Rumors estimates on arbitration-eligible players). If the first luxury tax threshold increased on par with the previous CBA, that would leave the Mets with roughly $24 million to spend before facing a penalty. They would be $44 million below a more serious penalty at the second threshold.
If you add back $21 million for Syndergaard, that number shrinks to $23 million. And that is before you consider the $20 million plus Stroman is likely to fetch and whatever amount Conforto secures (in case you are hoping both return to Queens).
While Mets fans rightly expect the new ownership to hurdle instead of playing financial limbo with luxury tax thresholds, the market pressures for Syndergaard can’t be completely ignored. One report suggests Syndergaard had another offer close to $25 million. Perhaps throwing out the qualifying offer and structuring a two-year deal with a lower average annual value but higher total value would have been the way to go, but it’s impossible to know whether Syndergaard would have been open to that idea.
In the end, the Mets are left with extra cash (which, with no salary cap and what are currently fairly small luxury tax penalties, really shouldn’t matter) and draft picks, at the cost of a fan favorite.
Marcus Stroman Is Going To Get Paid. This has been obvious since the end of last season, but in watching the contracts already being thrown around to starters this offseason, it’s clear that Stroman is going to secure a massive haul.
Losing Syndergaard makes the Mets even more desparate to keep Stroman, which, besides working out for Stroman (and his agent), puts pressure on Eppler to get a deal done. It also theoretically widens Eppler’s checkbook to make sure a deal gets done.
A rotation with deGrom, Stroman, Walker, and Carrasco has the potential to be excellent. New York must hold their breath that Walker pitches closer to the way he did during the first half of last season than the second, and that Carrasco forgets 2021 all together. It’s clear adding another starter beyond Stroman is necessary.
If we take a step back and pretend we aren’t Mets fans (a pleasant thought on many days), it’s important not to lose sight of the risk the Angels are taking in offering Syndergaard this deal. As summed up by Ken Rosenthal yesterday:
“F—— ludicrous,” the executive said.
The exec reasoned that Syndergaard, after throwing just two innings the past two seasons coming off Tommy John surgery, probably will be good for only about 125 innings next season. So, the Angels are paying a premium rate for a pitcher who will work only about 70 percent of a 180-inning workload, not that many starters even reach that total anymore (only 18 did in 2021).
While some will point the finger at the Mets for failing to secure the long-haired hurler, it literally took a “ludicrous” offer to pry him away from New York. This for a pitcher, who, as Rosenthal mentions, will probably max out at 125 innings next season.
The Mets might be better suited investing in a known commodity who can give them 180+ innings next year, especially with the lingering uncertainty surrounding Jacob deGrom’s health.
Where the Mets look for that starter depends on the level of term they want to offer. Signing any of the top names from Robbie Ray to Kevin Gausman is going to require a large, multi-year deal. It’s unlikely they will win the sweepstakes for a starter like Max Scherzer, or even Justin Verlander.
Did somebody say Steven Matz is a free agent? Joking aside, there are plenty of second-tier options that can give the Mets innings and potential for upside, from Jon Gray to Anthony DeSclafani to Alex Wood and/or Alex Cobb. Plus, you never know what becomes available in the trade market.
With Thanksgiving next week and the CBA set to expire on December 1, we could find out where the Mets turn to replace Syndergaard sooner rather than later.
“I think you’ll see more signings before the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) expires,” a team executive told John Harper this week. “Especially pitchers. There are a lot of teams with financial flexibility who need pitching and there’s only so much out there.”
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If you’re a Mets fan, it’s hard not to feel emotional about Syndergaard’s decision to sign somewhere else. Whether you blame him for leaving, or the Mets for not stepping up their offer, it doesn’t really matter. As a fan, you want to see the guy you’ve been following since he was acquired in the R.A. Dickey trade to live up to his potential as a Met.
Unfortunately, baseball is a business, as we will learn in the cruelest terms over the next few months with the looming lockout. From a business standpoint, the Angels took a risk the Mets weren’t able or willing to counter, and so here we are.
🔗 An early read on Mets managerial possibilities as Billy Eppler set to become GM, by Andy Martino, SNY: “A league official familiar with Eppler’s thinking linked Eppler with the following names: Brad Ausmus, who managed under Eppler in Los Angeles before owner Arte Moreno forced a Joe Maddon hire; Joe Espada, the Houston bench coach who worked with Eppler as a Yankees scout and coach; Eric Chavez, whom Eppler brought over from the Yankees to serve as a special assistant with the Angels.”
🔗 Five managerial candidates for the Mets, by Joel Sherman and Ken Davidoff, NY Post: The list includes 1) Buck Showalter, 2) Brad Ausmus, 3) Eric Chavez, 4) Joe Espada, and 5) Raul Ibanez. “Multiple sources told The Post, Eppler advised [Angels owner] [Arte] Moreno that if the owner were seeking a veteran, proven manager to try to win immediately, the GM’s pick would be Showalter, not [Joe] Maddon. Moreno, though, went with Maddon.”
🔗 Rojas crosses town, named Yanks 3B coach, by Bryan Hoch, MLB.com: “I’m excited; it’s a talented roster,” Rojas said. “We saw them in two series that we had last year when I was managing the Mets. Right now, I’m most excited to work with the outfielders because that’s my area. When you’re on a baseball team, you become a family, so I’m really looking forward to getting to know everybody.”
🔗 What does Noah Syndergaard’s move to the Angels mean for the Mets? by Tim Britton, The Athletic ($): “The market is especially bullish on starters because every team needs them. Nobody knows the residual impact of 2020’s shortened season on pitchers’ ability to throw innings, so depth has become a top priority across the sport. Even if the Mets want to play at the top end of the free agent market, they’ll be competing with the likes of the Angels, Dodgers, Giants, Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays.”
🔗 Noah Syndergaard’s exit gives Billy Eppler a problem he failed to solve last time, by Joel Sherman, NY Post: “The Angels are desperate for starting pitching — so much so they used all 20 picks last June on arms in Perry Minasian’s first draft as general manager. So desperate that they are willing to forfeit their second highest pick next June on a starter (Syndergaard) who — if they are fortunate — will pitch 140 innings next year. So desperate, in part, because the Angels GM from 2016-20 kept trying to fix the pitching and never did inventory enough to hand off something worthwhile to Minasian.”
🔗 Javier Báez may be the sneaky-good pick for middle-infield suitors, by Steven Martano, Beyond the Box Score: “In 2018, Báez posted a 5.4 fWAR, in 2019 a 4.3 fWAR and in 2021 a 3.6 fWAR. In total, he has been more productive since 2018. Compared to his 13.3 fWAR in that stretch, Correa posted 11.3 wins, and Seager posted a 9.3 fWAR. It does make you wonder why Correa and Seager are viewed as the obvious answers at shortstop with Báez likely to command a fraction of the year at a fraction of the cost. Correa is only a year younger than both Seager and Báez and it’s anticipated he’ll get an eight or nine year deal (Seager himself likely to command a seven or eight year deal).”
Speaking of Java Báez…
And we leave you with Marcus Stroman throwing some shade at the Yankees…
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