In a way, he’s as fascinating a solo figure as in the Mets organization. He’s been a ghost, a whisper, a rumor for two years, which is remarkable because when he’s around and when he’s healthy, you can’t miss Noah Syndergaard – and not just on days when he’s pitching.
The spring training 2020 was canceled on March 12th due to COVID-19. Thirteen days later, Syndergaard announced that he was going to have an operation on Tommy John. Usually such an announcement carries traumatic echoes that reverberate for weeks. But the country was deaf on March 25, 2020. The world was upside down. And when baseball returned it came back in a 60-game cramp that barely seemed worth the effort.
It was easy to forget Syndergaard and lament his absence on a season like this, and when he started to suffer setbacks this year, it had been so long since Syndergaard had played a proper game for the Mets, muscle memory was almost gone . Plus, the loss of Jacob deGrom in July was much more traumatic.
Well, Syndergaard is going to propose a rehab start for Triple-A Syracuse on Wednesday, and if things go well he’ll likely throw another one on Saturday or Sunday. And then, sometime in the last seven days of the Mets season, the hope is that No. 34 will throw his first furious throw for the big league club in nearly two years.
And then, after that …
“He still has a lot to do with his career and he has a bright future ahead of him,” said Mets manager Luis Rojas at Fenway Park on Tuesday, hours before his team played a 3-2 game against the Red Sox in their first game would make a two-game series. “Even after this two-year hiatus, what I see and hear from this child gives me encouragement as to what comes next for him.”
But where will the next chapter be?
Syndergaard is a free agent at the end of the season, and the Mets will face a dilemma as to what to do with him. Had the elbow not gone sideways, they would have either stretched it out or parted it away. Certainly the Mets aren’t going to make him a multi-year deal even with resources, and unless they decide to make a qualifying offer of $ 20 million – also unlikely – they will bid with other clubs looking to marry a pitcher willing to take a year on tight cash with the option to rebuild value.
The best scenario for this is Robbie Ray of the Blue Jays, who after several years of slowing pace and deteriorating performance signed a one-year $ 8 million that he is sure to bring to a big deal after a great year (12-6, 2.72, a league-leading 238 strikeouts). Less is what Corey Kluber did for the Yankees on a one-year $ 11 million deal after playing an inning last year and 36 ² / ₃ in the last two.
The possibilities are fascinating. If Syndergaard really wants to bet on himself, he might consider a relatively low one-year deal with a team like the Rays or the Astros, teams that have a track record of maximizing throwing tools and reviving careers.
But what if the Mets aren’t ready to cut the leash of a player who was twice a starter on the opening day before deGrom was given the honor once? Syndergaard’s last full season was a disappointment (10-8, 4.28 in 2019), but he was still able to score gems like the seven innings, three hits and ten hits attempt he got on the imminent Champion threw Nationals this September.
“The man and the mug are both more mature now,” said Rojas. “The last two years have been a period of real growth for him.”
That probably won’t matter whoever the new baseball boss becomes, as he has no personal loyalty to Syndergaard and will ask a simple question: is it possible for him to come all the way back? And at what price to find out for sure?
That’s why it’s far more fascinating to see Syndergaard play a couple of innings in the last week than deGrom, who was only supposed to be closed until Port St. Lucie. Much of what the Mets learn from Syndergaard will also be based on specs – it is assumed he will be a starter again when completely healthy, rather than a stopgap for an inning.
But it will be fascinating to see what he brings to the hill, either in Citi Field or in Atlanta. How much will he look like old Syndergaard? What is he projecting to be? The mind is about to return. For how long, no one can currently be guessed.