Noah Syndergaard will be returning in 2021 after Tommy John surgery. Here’s why the New York Mets should extend him now.
While #MetsTwitter anxiously awaits the finale of the New York Mets sale saga (thank you, J.Rod, Mayor DeBlasio & Jerry Reinsdorf), it’s safe to assume Steve Cohen has spent his time planning the offseason strategy with Sandy Alderson. Among those plans, giving Noah Syndergaard an extension this winter should near the top of that list.
As the fanbase mulls over whether Trevor Bauer is worth $245M and if trading for Francisco Lindor is worth it, the pending front office is certainly looking at how to retain the stars they currently have on their roster. Everyone on the planet knows the Mets should extend Michael Conforto this offseason, but Syndergaard should be the other priority for Cohen and Alderson.
The flamethrower was shelved for all of the 60-game season in 2020 due to Tommy John surgery to repair a torn UCL. If his recovery goes as scheduled, Syndergaard is slated to return sometime in the early part of the 2021 season. It will be an important one for both the Mets and Noah. For Syndergaard, he’ll be looking to re-establish himself as a top of the rotation starter in hopes of securing a hefty contract considering his pending free agency at the end of next year.
Meanwhile, the Mets will be looking to him to bridge the seemingly mammoth gap between Jacob deGrom and the rest of the rotation. Coming back from Tommy John is a steep uphill battle for most and although uncertainty lies ahead, the Mets should ink the right-hander to an extension this winter. There isn’t a better time to lock Noah up even without him throwing a pitch.
First, let’s look at the injury itself. Tommy John has become inevitable for a better part of Major League pitchers, especially those who throw with the kind of velocity that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from “Thor”. With 12-15 months being the average recovery time from the elaborate procedure, the results from pitchers returning have certainly been discouraging.
In fact, one study done in 2014 shows that 80-90% of pitchers never return to form. Mets fans will certainly default to Matt Harvey’s fall from grace as a prime example of the risk Tommy John presents and yes, there’s certainly no guarantee for success on the mound for Syndergaard once he returns.
However, for the large majority of pitchers who’ve struggled to recover from Tommy John, there’s a plethora of those who have fared well. Stephen Strasburg, John Smoltz, Billy Wagner, Yu Darvish, and even the 2006 villain Adam Wainwright, to name a few, have all had success after undergoing the surgery.
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Sure, this is a small sample compared to the 168 players who were surveyed in the previously mentioned study, however, you could argue that a majority of those pitchers weren’t quite the same caliber of arms as those who have been successful.
In light of the uncertainty of post-surgery production, this offseason is the perfect time to make an offer, which carries a low-risk/high-reward potential.
A major reason an extending Noah is low-risk lies solely in the pockets of Cohen. Up until this season, an extremely tight Wilpon payroll made it a necessity to have every deal bring back a solid return (looking at you Cespedes, Lowrie, Betances..); that changes with Cohen’s funds.
This isn’t advocating reckless spending, but rather a simple recognition that the misses don’t hurt nearly as much as they did in the past. To sign Syndergaard for three or four more years, while having him possibly underperform, wouldn’t leave the Mets incapable of maneuvering around a potential failed deal.
Noah being a total bust is the worst case scenario. Now, let’s look at the high reward potential. With 775 strikeouts accompanying a career 3.31 ERA and WHIP of 1.16, there’s plenty of reason to think that Noah’s floor is enough to sign him beyond this year. While he hasn’t repeated his stellar 2016 season due to injuries and a poor 2019, the ceiling is still incredibly high for Noah.
At 6’6”, 240 pounds, Syndergaard has been fairly durable in his career. The 28-year old has averaged 171 innings pitched across four seasons, not including 2017 where he only pitched 30 innings all season. Everyone in baseball knows how devastating his stuff is when healthy.
If you exclude 2017, Thor has averaged 185 strikeouts over four years and his career numbers in both K% (26.4) and K/9 (9.74) net him in the top 15 in baseball (min. 600 IP). Command is usually the last thing to come to pitchers who undergo the procedure, but again, Noah lands inside the top 15 in both BB/9 and BB% over the last five years. There’s no reason to think that command would be an issue for Syndergaard as he makes his return to the mound.
So what could an extension look like for Noah? Given the nature of his injury, the Mets probably have some leverage in terms of length. Of the seven biggest contracts ever given to a pitcher, five of them were signed by players 30-years old or older. It would be sensible to offer Syndergaard a contract that takes him beyond free agency, but still grants him an opportunity to sign a big deal in his age 31 or 32 season.
Ideally, the Mets would offer Thor something in the range of three years/$36M. If those numbers sound familiar, you’re correct: that’s what the Mets gave to Oliver Pérez back in 2009. The AAV with that contract would be $3M more than what Noah’s projected to make in arbitration this year and that’s without throwing a single pitch since Tommy John.
If Noah wouldn’t sign that, Alderson could bump up the value of the deal to secure him staying in New York. Raising the dollar amount to $45M and giving Syndergaard $15M annually should be appealing enough to make him sign. Given the uncertainty of finances across baseball due to losses across the league and the severity of the injury he’s trying to come back from, it’s hard to see Noah completely balking at this offer or something similar to it.
One could argue that adding potentially $6M to the payroll in a year where the Mets are trying to improve a lot of areas doesn’t make sense, but I don’t think the Mets will sign Bauer if he is looking to sign in the $220M+ range and in that case, you’re looking at a much smaller deal for someone like Marcus Stroman.
This type of deal makes sense for both sides. For the Mets, they avoid a major contract they’d have to dish out if Noah pitched well and hit free agency. Say in 2021 Syndergaard returns to form, the Mets are getting top 20 value for well below what the market would pay a pitcher in that tier.
If he didn’t regain his form, the Mets are only tied in for three years. As for Noah, he gets paid above what arbitration would provide while also being able to establish himself as a top starter in the league, which would inevitably set him up for a massive payday right around his age 31 season (see Strasburg, Greinke, Lester, Price).
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The Mets were shown this season just how valuable pitching depth is for a club intending to compete. It’s imperative that they give themselves a chance to compete each night on the mound outside of deGrom and locking up Thor puts them in a position to do that. For a franchise that’s built to win now, extending Syndergaard ushers them closer to bringing a championship back to Flushing.