Roughly a year and a half ago, Matt Harvey was watching the sun set on his time in Queens. At the end of April, he was demoted to the bullpen. His struggles continued, his frustration mounted, and he stopped speaking to the media. This prompted a tidal wave of column inches filled with fall from grace character arcs, with the same members of the media who so carefully built up his Dark Knight persona seemingly relishing in tearing it down again. I wrote almost 1,000 words in Harvey’s defense. In early May, he was unceremoniously designated for assignment and later traded to the Reds for Devin Mesoraco. He has yet to resurrect a career felled by injury and for some segments of the fanbase, talking about Harvey will always leave a sour taste in their mouths. To them, he will always be the problem child that did not live up to his potential because of personal failings born out of certain character flaws.
I vividly remember thinking to myself at the time, “It is only a matter of time before the Mets do this to Noah Syndergaard.” The parallels are hard to ignore. Both players have superhero-inspired nicknames that arose via a combination of dominance on the mound and an air of swagger. And we know how much the Mets bristle at a player with a big personality.
The tension between Syndergaard and team leadership is nothing new, of course. The constant trade rumors predate the current front office regime and Syndergaard has made it clear what he thinks of those rumors, even adding a humorous line to his Twitter bio this past offseason that pointed the finger at team-friendly media outlets for perpetuating the narrative. He was the center of attention once again at the trade deadline this season. But once again, none of the rumors came to fruition. Instead of dealing Syndergaard (or even Zack Wheeler), the Mets shocked the baseball world, opting to acquire Marcus Stroman and try to contend this year and next year.
Fast-forward to today. The Mets stand two games out of Wild Card position in mid-September, duking it out with four other teams for one playoff spot and playing the most exciting September baseball we have seen in Flushing in three years. Yet, a contentious relationship between the team and one of its star players is dominating headlines instead. The specter of dysfunction constantly looms over this franchise like a weird shadow that no comeback from the doldrums can escape.
The most recent disagreement between Syndergaard and the Mets arises from his wariness about throwing to Wilson Ramos. Syndergaard has appealed to the Mets many times over the course of the season to pitch to Tomas Nido or, more recently, Rene Rivera rather than Ramos. His results have certainly been better when not pitching to Ramos. However, the Mets are reluctant to take Ramos’ bat out of the lineup during a playoff push. Syndergaard took his appeal to Brodie Van Wagenen and media outlets reported that Syndergaard “became livid” during the course of that conversation. Both Syndergaard and Van Wagenen disagree with that characterization and Syndergaard expressed visible frustration at the fact that the conversation was leaked in the first place.
Of course, the issue stems not so much from the disagreement itself, but rather from how it is being reported. Yesterday, Andy Martino of SNY wrote a piece expressing generalized exasperation regarding the “slog” of covering constant spats and trade rumors involving Syndergaard and the Mets. In it, he conveniently ignores the fact that these apparently irksome narratives are ultimately controlled by the media itself, which is all too reminiscent of how events surrounding Matt Harvey unfolded.
Two passages from Martino’s article particularly stick out to me:
Come to think of it, we’re all fairly beaten down by now by the trickle of news about unpleasant moments between the team and a player who was once its most marketable star.
The first ripple of discontent came in 2017, when Syndergaard refused Sandy Alderson’s request to get in an MRI tube. For a time, that seemed anomalous; the player who called himself “Thor” was still entrenched as part of the Mets’ future.
The emphasis in both of these snippets is mine. Firstly, notice his use of the past tense in both instances, which implies that Syndergaard is no longer one of the Mets’ most marketable stars and perhaps no longer worthy of his “Thor” moniker, despite the fact that he has the 12th best ERA of any pitcher in baseball since 2015 and the fact that fans still line up around the block to get Thor promotional items. Secondly, the weaponizing of his nickname into something he was solely responsible for bestowing upon himself and can now no longer live up to is a literal carbon copy of sarcastic references to Harvey’s “Dark Knight” persona in the spring of 2018.
Of course, admonishing a player’s character on his way out the door is nothing new for the Mets. They have a storied history of doing this, which we have written about in the past. But the way Syndergaard’s story is playing out so similarly to Harvey’s is particularly striking and raises fears, certainly on my part, anyway, that the Mets will finally make good on those trade rumors this offseason. The slow and deliberate weaving of a narrative that paints Noah Syndergaard as a rabble rouser and a diva is all too familiar and we know from the past what chapter of the story is coming next. And once again, it is exhausting as a fan to see.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of this situation is the one aspect of it that sets it apart from the Harvey story. If the Mets really are deliberately alienating Syndergaard with the ultimate intent to trade him this offseason, it comes at the expense of their success in 2020. The Mets led the fanbase to believe that they intend to compete next season with the acquisition of Stroman. Noah Syndergaard is still among the best pitchers in the league. Allowing a clash of personalities and sheer pettiness to take precedence over building on what the Mets have achieved this season would not only be foolish, it would be an affront to the fanbase.
Harvey and Syndergaard may have embraced their superhero personas, but ultimately it is the media—egged on by the team—that has been responsible for turning them into villains. I only hope that Syndergaard’s Mets legacy does not suffer to the degree that Harvey’s did.