In the seven weeks since pitcher Noah Syndergaard landed on the disabled list, the Mets lost their general manager to illness, lost more players to injuries, and sunk to the worst record in the National League. Whispers of trades coming ahead of a July 31 deadline intensified, with Syndergaard’s name among those mentioned.
Finally back on the mound, Syndergaard looked a little rusty but allowed only one run in five innings in a 4-2 win over the Washington Nationals, who are also sputtering this season. Although he walked two and allowed the leadoff batter to reach base each inning, Syndergaard limited the damage to a run-scoring double by Wilmer Difo in the third inning. He coaxed strikeouts, flyouts and groundouts with runners on base. The Mets limited him to 75 pitches. His fastball buzzed at 99 miles per hour.
He even drove home a run off a single in the second inning.
“A step in the right direction and encouraging to know that I’m healthy,” Syndergaard said.
The Mets have tentatively scheduled Syndergaard’s next start against the Yankees, after the All-Star break. What the roster will look like later this month is still in question. Any potential trade of Syndergaard could get complicated: The Mets say they want to contend for the playoffs next season and he is an essential cog, but he has barely pitched the past two years. Since the start of the 2017 season, Syndergaard has thrown only 100 innings because of a latissimus tear and the injury that put him on the disabled list most recently, a strained ligament of his right index finger, on his throwing hand.
“We really need him to make that start every fifth day the rest of the season to get to an innings total he can build off of,” Mets Manager Mickey Callaway said before Friday’s game.
In order to rebuild a rigid and older roster, and replenish a farm system that was ranked among the worst in baseball, the Mets need to consider deeper changes than last season, when they only traded away pending free agents for minor league relief pitchers and payroll savings. The Mets, however, have fewer of those pending free agents to trade, and it would be unwise to repeat the same strategy. And in the off-season, the Mets opted for bargains on veteran free agents 30 or older, most of whom have been injured or struggling. On several recent occasions, the Mets have stated a desire to get younger and more athletic.
This is why the Mets have listened to trade offers for many of their players, including Syndergaard, the All-Star pitcher Jacob deGrom and pitcher Zack Wheeler, who has received a good amount of interest because of his lower acquisition cost. (Wheeler is a free agent after next season, while DeGrom is under team control through 2020 and Syndergaard through 2021.)
“If they wanted to trade me tomorrow, I’d really have no say in what they do,” Syndergaard said. “What I can say is I’ve loved my time being a New York Met. I love the city. I love embracing it and it embracing me.”
John Ricco, the Mets’ assistant general manager who is part of the trio of executives leading the team since General Manager Sandy Alderson stepped down last month because of a recurrence of cancer, put any trade talk about deGrom and Syndergaard in perspective last week.
He said it would take an “overwhelming deal” that included talented players at or close to the major leagues to pry either away.
“We’re not out there actively looking to move Jacob or Noah by any stretch,” Ricco added. “For right now, we’re looking at — because of the makeup of our team and because we have guys like Noah and Jake at the top of the rotation — if we add the right pieces around them, we can be competitive really quickly.”