It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, but the MLB offseason has already seen its first blockbuster, as the New York Yankees acquired James Paxton from the Seattle Mariners on Monday. That may not be the only trade impacting a starting rotation in the Big Apple, either.
Trade clouds had surrounded New York Mets pitchers Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline this past summer. Unfortunately, they appeared once again when new GM Brodie Van Wagenen said he wouldn’t rule out that possibility this winter.
DeGrom, the newly minted NL Cy Young award winner, doesn’t appear to be going anywhere (and may even have a new longer-term deal under his belt by next spring), but The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal recently noted that all of New York’s starters are generating interest.
The most notable one among this group is Syndergaard, both because of his ability and the three years of team control he must play through before hitting free agency. From the various reports that have popped up regarding Thor over the past few days, it seems as if this possibility is as real as it’s ever been.
This idea of trading Syndergaard — a controllable 26-year-old hurler with ace qualities — sounds preposterous for a team with hopes of competing next season, but it’s not super crazy. The Mets aren’t just one player away from getting over the hump.
Filling multiple holes via free agency sounds easy on paper, but we’re also still unsure of what New York’s actual budget will be. So, that means a trade (or more than one) could eventually happen. And while holding onto a talent like Syndergaard is an ideal scenario, you have to give up something of value in order to get what you need or want.
Still, that doesn’t mean a potential blockbuster is going to happen. Taking it a step further, watching a transaction of this magnitude go down prior to Opening Day would be even more shocking, for a handful of reasons.
They Need To Be Overwhelmed
Although Mets COO Jeff Wilpon didn’t dismiss a possible Syndergaard trade, he did say that any transaction would need to be “pretty lopsided” in New York’s favor.
I’m sure that’s something any opposing team would be happy to do in the middle of November or December (cue the sarcasm).
Every front office values players differently, including their own. Wanting a lot in return for a player of Syndergaard’s caliber isn’t breaking news, but Wilpon going out of his way to specifically state this gives a signal that it happening appears unlikely. Plus, it’s a lot harder to get opposing teams to panic and drastically overpay during the winter when the sense of urgency isn’t nearly as high as during the middle of a season.
There Are Plenty of Other Options
Syndergaard’s situation is unique and could warrant an overpay, but he’s far from the only top-tier pitching option available right now.
The present production and future outlook may not appear as rosy for some at the moment, but free-agent hurlers like Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel, Nathan Eovaldi, Charlie Morton, and J.A. Happ all provide a bit of upside when weighing the risks and benefits. Let’s not forget about the trade market, where guys like Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Zack Greinke, and Madison Bumgarner could all be available.
One would also imagine that depending on how steep the price is for Syndergaard, the rumors have a chance at lasting for a while as the rest of the pitching market shakes itself out. As other hurlers find new homes or have to switch jerseys, that could continually dwindle whatever serious market there ends up being for Thor.
They Don’t Just Want Prospects
This conversation would be a lot easier if the Mets were solely looking for a package of high-end prospects in a potential exchange. It’s also why the San Diego Padres appear to be a natural trade partner — they’ve had previous interest, own the game’s top-rated farm system, want to start winning soon, and their rotation underwhelmed in 2018.
Rosenthal threw a bit of cold water on San Diego and New York matching up because the Mets’ goal in any deal will likely be what BVW mentioned in his first presser — to win now and in the future.
How much any team is willing to surrender with regard to prospects could easily sway the front office from that initial desire, but the Padres don’t have a ton of significant MLB contributors to offer following a 66-96 campaign. With New York’s known desire to compete, it seems like interested suitors will need to both completely overwhelm them and include MLB-caliber talent that can help right away.
This Would Lead To Other Spending
If we use the Mets’ payroll levels from the last few years as a benchmark (about $150 million), there isn’t a ton of wiggle room to make big-money investments in difference makers. That’s why the front office will likely get creative to cross off items on their to-do list.
Among all the things Syndergaard offers the Mets, his greatest attribute is likely how affordable he is for the production he provides. MLB Trade Rumors projects him to make just $5.9 million in 2019, which is his second of four trips through arbitration as a Super Two player.
Even if BVW and friends flip his former client to fill other roster needs, they’ll need to spend to fill the hole he’d leave in the rotation. The basis on which the Mets think they can compete next season obviously lies in the starting trio of deGrom, Syndergaard, and Zack Wheeler. With Steven Matz and Jason Vargas being a potentially shaky back end of the rotation, it’s not as if New York can just trade Thor and use whatever depth they have (probably Seth Lugo) to make up for it.
The Mets need to spend some money to significantly change the present look of their roster. How the front office uses its current assets will probably dictate if the majority of money spent is used to upgrade the pitching staff or the offense. They’re exploring free-agent rotation options if a trade involving Thor comes together, but that’s also not an uncommon thing to do at this time in the offseason.
When it comes to a potential Syndergaard blockbuster, though, watching that come together would be surprising after knowing his importance to the Mets in the present and future. Anything can happen, and moving him makes sense if the situation is right, but I think a trade involving Thor is more likely to happen during the midst of the regular season than right now.