To paraphrase Mark Twain: “The reports of his trading are greatly exaggerated.” Time and time again Noah Syndergaard’s name has come up in trade talks, but then each time any trade appears to get shut down. Last Friday an anonymous report came out expressing that Syndergaard was definitely being traded only to have new reports on the night before the deadline state he was apparently taken off the block.
Similar events transpired over the winter, when for a few weeks Syndergaard trade rumors were the only thing keeping the hot stove warm.
Perhaps Brodie Van Wagenen is up to more than we can see, and operating in a way that is less familiar to our fanbase and to baseball. Amid of the rumors and ambiguity of what would happen at the deadline, the one certainty was that the rookie GM was very busy.
By putting Syndergaard’s name for sale, he accomplished two jobs: one proving to the league that he is not overly attached to his former clients, and two helping the team enter trade talks with other teams. This was true in December and it was true in July.
Let’s elaborate on that second point. What do the Mets have to offer to other teams if they want to “win now and in the future” as they say? Threading the needle between buyer and seller has not been a preferred option for front offices in the past, and certainly does not make entering trade negotiations easy since a team is essentially trying to improve itself without giving up major league or upper minors assets. This combined with the Mets’ frugal spending habits would appear to make them a poor trading partner.
However, by talking to as many teams as possible (reports said they were in contact with nine teams about Zack Wheeler up until the deadline) and by discussing many possibilities, a team is able to uncover some creative deals. The surprise Marcus Stroman trade was an example of this.
That is where Syndergaard comes in. What team wouldn’t want Syndergaard? A starter with a 99 mile per hour fastball to go along with a charming personality and two years of team control at just 26 years old, he is an ideal fit for almost any team. Dangling him is how the Mets were close to making some of the biggest deals of the offseason and season. You always need some piece to get a foot in the door.
However just coming close to a deal doesn’t accomplish anything, or does it? I doubt the Blue Jays were interested in Syndergaard, but putting him out on the market sure seemed to allow the Mets to corner the starting pitching market, as well as to see what was out there.
Another effect the trade rumors had were with the catching market in the offseason. While his season has been up and down, the Mets were able to sign Wilson Ramos at a discount because of close trade talks with the Marlins. Wilson Ramos’ 2-year $19 million deal appears to be a bargain for the player who led all catchers last year with a 131 wRC+. By making a J.T. Realmuto trade with the Marlins for Syndergaard seem likely (either via the Yankees or another team), the free agent catcher was pressured to sign earlier before the narrow market for them dried up. Maybe that is how the Mets were able to snag Ramos for under his projected value.
Did Van Wagenen use Syndergaard as bait to get the wheels rolling on the free agent catching market as well as to drive down the price? We can’t be sure, but what we can be sure of is he is using creative ways to make this team better. Many people myself included doubted the hire of the former agent, but he could be just what this financially-constricted team needs to compete.
And if this trade deadline revealed anything it is that the age of distinct buyers and sellers is over. With the new “final” trade deadline more teams are stuck in the in between of being a competitor and a rebuilder. With this change we saw many more strange deals such as the Stroman trade, or the deal between the Indians and Reds. We saw top trade candidates remain with their team and some players never thought of as trade options shipped away. It made for an exciting deadline, and it made the Mets who were 10 games under .500 at the All-Star Break a team not gunning for the playoffs. Front offices were forced to be more creative and break the typical buyer and seller market of yesteryear.
Back to Van Wagenen, it was a small move to put Syndergaard on the block, and it probably only achieved marginal results, but it just goes to show how crafty the new administration is willing to be. If the team really wanted to move on with Syndergaard they would have, as they did with Jason Vargas. In the end, it seems the trade rumors were just a way to move the market into the Mets’ favor.