After the end of the 2019 season, attempting to extend Noah Syndergaard seemed like a good idea—lock up the team’s second best starter and shore up the top of the rotation for years to come. But when it was announced that he needed Tommy John surgery right after spring training got suspended earlier this season, the concept of handing out a long-term deal seemed more questionable.
However, there may still be good sense in giving Syndergaard an extension, albeit shorter than previously dreamed of. After what happened with the Mets rotation this season, making sure you have more starters is always preferred. And if Syndergaard returns to form, they can negotiate a longer contract with him while he’s still with the team, rather than having to duke it out with other teams on the free agent market.
For his career, Noah Syndergaard has been extremely good for the Mets. Over his five seasons he has a 3.31 ERA, a 2.92 FIP, and a 1.16 WHIP. He’s averaged 9.74 K/9 over his career and just 0.79 HR/9. He’s been worth a total of 18.8 WAR since 2015, and with the exception of his injury-shortened 2017 season, he has never been worth less than 2.9 WAR in a single season.
And if those numbers don’t sound good enough for some, if you look at active starters with at least 700 innings pitched, Syndergaard has the tenth lowest ERA, ahead of Justin Verlander and Aaron Nola and just behind Max Scherzer. He has the fourth lowest FIP, with only Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw, and Jacob deGrom ahead of him. This is the kind of pitcher most teams would dream of having, and the Mets already have him.
Now the big question that remains is: what will Noah Syndergaard look like when he comes back? He is currently rehabbing after having Tommy John surgery, something that used to be a big risk but now is commonplace and most pitchers can return from. However, there are some pitchers who can’t return to their level of greatness, or return at all (though this is a relatively low percentage). This injury has pretty much put the idea of a long-term extension to bed, at least for now.
But a smart idea for the Mets might be to sign Noah Syndergaard to a two year extension, buying out his final arbitration year and the year after. This would allow Syndergaard to rehab without worrying about how he can prove himself in a few short months before hitting free agency, and would give the Mets some reassurance about having an arm that has a good chance of being top of the rotation quality.
The Mets need all the pitching help they can get. For next season they have two starters, Jacob deGrom and David Peterson, and Peterson will probably be on an innings limit given the fact that he’s never thrown more than 120 innings in a season. They also don’t have many other starting pitchers ready to go in their minor leagues. Of the three pitchers in their top 10 prospects (as ranked by Baseball America), only Thomas Szapucki has seen playing time above Class A, and Szapucki only threw 61 innings in 2019 after coming off Tommy John Surgery himself. So unlike this season where they were able to bring up David Peterson for some rotation help, the Mets don’t really have anyone else they could bring up with any solid hope of success.
Now what would a short-term extension for Noah Syndergaard look like? In years prior, the money factor would be a big question and would probably lead to no contract at all. But with Steve Cohen taking over as owner, and presumably being a little more capable to spend money, this will become more feasible. Next year, Syndergaard is projected to make just south of $10 million in arbitration. If the Mets offer Syndergaard something around $20 to $25 million for two years, that could be highly advantageous for both sides.
If Syndergaard signs this hypothetical contract and returns to form, the Mets have Syndergaard for two years and they will have the leg up on negotiating with him before he hits free agency. If he doesn’t, they’re not tied to him long term. If Syndergaard wants to test free agency after the deal he will have been able to show himself as fully recovered for over a full season, and if he doesn’t come back as good he will have at least gotten some money he might not have otherwise.
A short-term Syndergaard extension could work out well for all sides. The Mets have a good pitcher for longer, and Syndergaard has more time to prove himself after surgery. Taking a small gamble on a pitcher who can be a second ace doesn’t seem like a bad idea, even with the rehab process still ahead. And if the gamble doesn’t pay off, at least the Mets won’t be hurting for long.