As the trade deadline approaches with the Mets well out of the race, rumors have started to swirl about Noah Syndergaard. Watching Syndergaard has been frustrating this season, both due to the new major league ball and his at-times questionable pitch mix. The top line results haven’t been pretty, with Syndergaard running a career-high 4.68 ERA and a career-low 8.6 K/9.
At the same time, advanced metrics like DRA suggest Syndergaard is still more then 30% better than league average (3.29 DRA, 67.9 DRA-). His raw stuff is still stupendous, even if the Mets have him leaning on his worst pitches, and while other pitchers—such as Aaron Nola—have found ways to adjust to the new ball, the Mets as a whole have not. These organizational failings, combined with the team’s porous defense, are more to blame for Syndergaard’s ugly results than his true talent level.
This isn’t a new problem for the organization, as failing to maximize the talent of their players has been a consistent issue. Jay Bruce famously had to go the analytics staff himself to ask what he was doing wrong in 2017, which is a patently ridiculous scenario for a modern organization. While most of baseball is integrating their analytics and coaching staff more effectively than ever before, the Mets continue to leave their players out to dry.
As such, it’s easy to imagine a Syndergaard trade turning into a Gerrit Cole-level disaster for the Mets. The Astros were able to take advantage of the Pirates by trading a pile of spare parts for a talented pitcher whose development seemed to have stagnated, then made the necessary adjustments to turn him into an elite arm. Rather than falling into the same trap, it’d be better for the Mets to put in the investment—monetary and intellectual—into identifying those adjustments themselves.
That this rumor is even being taken seriously is indicative of an entirely separate organizational problem: What is the Mets’ plan? The team currently has an enviable core,as plenty of teams would be eager to build around Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Amed Rosario, Jacob deGrom, and Edwin Diaz. But Syndergaard is part of that core, too, and trading him would have major implications on the Mets’ ability to win in the short term.
Historically, the Wilpons have been unwilling to allow a total roster blowup, and the aforementioned core would be squandered with such a plan. Trading Syndergaard would make sense in the context of a firesale, but most of the Mets’ other recent moves—their free agent acquisitions this past offseason or extending Jacob deGrom—would not. To be clear, this isn’t a plan I’d agree with, but the Mets could at least execute it correctly if they were going this route.
More realistically, the Mets still see themselves as contenders within the next two seasons, in which case trading Syndergaard makes almost no sense. It’s easy to dream about flipping Syndergaard for Luis Urias and Francisco Mejia then turning around to and replacing him with Gerrit Cole in free agency, but that sort of offer probably isn’t coming, and the Mets don’t spend at the top of the market. Unless you really think that Syndergaard is as bad as his ERA—and there’s ample evidence that he isn’t—there are few realistic scenarios where trading him doesn’tt make the team worse through 2021.
Here lies the discordance of the Mets’ plan. They intend to contend, but they also seem to be entertaining the idea of trading away one of their most critical short-term assets. There is no consistency from the front office, and all their moves seem like haphazard, impulse decisions driven by half-baked analysis or the mercurial whims of a flaky, meddling ownership group.
Trading Noah Syndergaard would be an incredibly risky move for an organization that routinely does a sub-par job of identifying and developing talent. Moreover, even if those struggles weren’t as pronounced, any realistic Syndergaard trade makes no sense for the timetable the front office seems to be working on. Hopefully these rumors remain just that, and the Mets don’t walk into the latest in a long list of historical blunders.