On Wednesday, MLB Network’s Jon Paul Morosi reported the San Diego Padres (among others) have checked with the New York Mets concerning starter Noah Syndergaard’s availability. A league source has confirmed to CBS Sports Syndergaard is “legitimately” on the trading block, though no deal is imminent — or, even, likely ahead of the July 31st deadline.
Syndergaard is having a disappointing season. He’ll enter the second half with a 4.68 ERA and 3.37 strikeout-to-walk ratio — both marks would represent career worsts. Some of Syndergaard’s issues are attributable to his teammates. The Mets have a below-average catching tandem, according to advanced metrics, as well as one of the worst team-wide defenses in baseball. Those explanations — paired with his raw stuff, track record, and two remaining seasons of team control — are certain to make him an attractive trade candidate for the foreseeable future.
While Syndergaard is likely to be fine wherever he lands, whenever he lands there, the most compelling aspect to these rumors is what they say about the Mets. General manager Brodie Van Wagenen hasn’t been on the job for an entire year, but is he about to make wholesale changes for a second time?
With less than three weeks until the trade deadline, the expectation is the Mets will look to trade Zack Wheeler, Todd Frazier, Jason Vargas, and perhaps a few others prior to the deadline. Ace Jacob deGrom seems unlikely to go anywhere, given he signed a long-term extension with the club in the spring. All-Stars Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil would also seem secure in New York.
Strip those names from the equation, and the Mets have only so many players of interest.
There’s no doubt Michael Conforto — on pace for a third consecutive season with more than 25 home runs and an OPS+ exceeding 120 — would be sought after if he was made available. Ditto for reliever Seth Lugo and shortstop Amed Rosario. Dominic Smith has regained value this season, but the Mets lack leverage considering he doesn’t fit the roster whatsoever. J.D. Davis, a savvy offseason acquisition, may also draw looks as a bat off the bench.
In order to enter a full-scale rebuild, the Mets would need teams to believe they could “fix” left-hander Steven Matz and relievers Robert Gsellman and Edwin Diaz, whose fall from grace has been as sudden as it has been surprising. Brandon Nimmo’s health issues have dashed his appeal. The Mets would risk selling low by moving any and/or all of the above.
It seems unlikely the Mets would entertain a hard reset, anyway. They have one of the worst farm systems in baseball, but switching to a five-year rebuild would entail wasting what’s left of deGrom’s prime as well as most of Alonso and McNeil’s team-controlled seasons. Besides, the real problem with the Mets is nearly every veteran addition has tanked.
Robinson Cano, who has finished with a sub-100 OPS+ once in his career, has a 75 OPS+; Jed Lowrie still hasn’t played in a regular-season game; Jeurys Familia has an ERA and walk rate nearing singularity in the 7s; Justin Wilson has permitted six runs in 10 innings. Were it not for Wilson Ramos, who has a 106 OPS+ to buoy his substandard mitt, the Mets would have struck out entirely on their winter adds. Heck, they still may have the worst return on investment.
To make matters worse, the Mets have significant coin tied to those players next season. Add in deGrom, and those six are owed $83 million. The Mets also owe injured outfielder Yoenis Cespedes nearly $30 million next year (insurance stands to cover most of that amount), pushing the total over $113 million. Remember, the Mets set a new franchise record this year by entering the season with a $158 million payroll.
The upshot is the Mets run most of this same group back next season, with a few additions to fill in the holes. (New York may require up to three new starters, for instance, if they trade Syndergaard and ditch Vargas.) Could that work? Absolutely. Think about all that has gone wrong for the organization this season. Ignore, if you can, that this is the Mets we’re talking about — can you reasonably expect it all to happen again next year? Probably not.
A valid follow-up question is: so, why trade Syndergaard if the goal is to compete next year? Likely because of the supposed personality clash between player and organization. It’s also possible the Mets regard him as the one piece who could return a collection of worthwhile prospects and/or younger big-league pieces who can raise their ceiling and floor. Theoretically, a deal with the Padres could net the Mets a new catcher (Francisco Mejia or Austin Hedges), outfielder (Manuel Margot or Franchy Cordero), and possibly a young starter to slot into Syndergaard’s vacant rotation spot (and/or others, depending on the risk threshold the Mets are willing to assume).
The catch is that even if the Mets get a good deal — one prioritizing the best prospects as opposed to the package enabling them for a run in 2020 — they’d be stuck in a predicament: not necessarily a contender, yet burdened with a maxed-out payroll and overdrawn farm system. The Mets, then, are in a brutal position. It’s possible they trade Syndergaard and find themselves competitive next year, but it’s going to take some brilliance, boldness, and luck on Van Wagenen’s part.
He’s proven he has the boldness — now, to find out about the other two.