The Mets have the wealthiest owner in MLB. They also have a clear need for starting pitching. Those two factors have made everyone fall in line in agreement that the Mets should give the Qualifying Offer (QO) to Noah Syndergaard. But my belief is that it would be a mistake for the Mets to do that. A lot of money needs to be spent by the club this offseason. And just because they can afford to do it doesn’t mean they should be eager to make bad decisions.

Earlier, Syndergaard said he would be, “extremely grateful” to get the QO and it’s hard to believe he’s just being modest here. In the last two years, Syndergaard has thrown a total of two innings – and had a 9.00 ERA. In his last healthy season, Syndergaard had a 96 ERA+. You have to go back to 2018 to find a season where he was an above-average pitcher.

And even that year, there were plenty of people who were not exactly thrilled with his output. You’d hear criticisms that he didn’t pitch up in the zone enough, that he takes too many pitches to put guys away, that he’s too easy to run against and that he gives up too many hits. It’s easy to look up his 2018 season and conclude that he was really good. But if you were there at the time, people criticized Syndergaard quite a bit that year, figuring that however good he was, that he should be even better.

Going back one more season, Syndergaard bulked up in the offseason, believing that was going to make him a better pitcher. In seven starts he had a 141 ERA+, which was not as good as his 155 ERA+ the year before. But there was reason to think he was better, as his FIP was an amazing 1.31, compared to his league-leading 2.29 FIP in 2016. But we’ll never know if he was correct in his judgment because he missed the rest of the season with a lat injury.

So, we’re looking at a guy who in the last five seasons pitched a total of 32.1 innings in three of those years, put up a 96 ERA+ in another and was criticized as much as he was praised in the remaining season.

Since 2017, Syndergaard has made 66 starts in the majors and has a 107 ERA+, a total being carried by what he did in 2018. In the last three years, Syndergaard’s thrown 199.2 innings, allowed 25 HR and notched a 95 ERA+. If this was a guy who pitched on another team, we’d view him as someone worth taking a flier on, to see if he could recapture the glory from his early years. We certainly wouldn’t advocate spending $18.4 million for one year, which is the QO rate this offseason.

Taijuan Walker hit free agency following the 2020 season in circumstances a tiny bit like Syndergaard’s. He missed most of 2018-19 with injuries and pitched a full season in 2020, but that was the truncated Covid year. But at least he had 11 starts and 53.1 IP under his belt, with a 162 ERA+, too. Since he was traded during the year, the Blue Jays could not offer him the QO. Would they, had he been eligible? Given that they signed Robbie Ray and traded for Steven Matz, it’s certainly possible that they would have done exactly that. But we’ll never know.

What we do know is that free of having any draft pick compensation attached to signing him that teams didn’t exactly beat a path towards his door. Walker didn’t sign with the Mets until February 20th and he got a 2/$20 deal. Essentially, he was worth a little bit more than half of this year’s QO. And it’s possible that on a per year basis that it would be even less than that. Walker holds a player option for a third season, one which would pay him $6 million. There’s a $3 million buyout, which is factored into the 2/$20 cited above. But if Walker pitches like he did in the second half, he might take the option, making if a 3/$23 deal.

You can argue that Syndergaard > Walker. And if we were having this conversation in 2018 that would be true. But in 2021 is that still the case? Maybe it is. But acting like it’s a slam dunk, a certainty to happen, well, that’s just not something that you should want your favorite team to do.

If the Mets extend the QO to Syndergaard, they’re taking all of the risk and getting almost none of the reward. The best-case scenario is that Syndergaard returns to the guy he was in 2016. Yet, what happens if he does? Much like with Marcus Stroman this year, they can’t QO Syndergaard a second time. The Mets will have to pay market rate to retain his services.

There are a couple of ways that bringing back Syndergaard makes sense for the Mets. One is a multi-year deal similar to what they gave Walker this past offseason. The other is a one-year deal at significantly less than the QO. Would my preference really be to risk losing Syndergaard to another team to save $9 million? Yeah, it is.

Re-signing Syndergaard entails a sizable risk and it’s foolish to pretend otherwise. While we all remember him intimidating the Royals in the World Series and then following that up with a terrific season in 2016, the chances he returns to being the guy he was five/six years ago just aren’t that great. If we’re lucky, he returns to the guy he was in 2019, a league-average pitcher.

There were questions this time last year about giving Stroman the QO. But he had only missed one year and that was for non-injury reasons. With Syndergaard, we’re looking at two lost seasons, both due to injuries. Syndergaard’s contract has to reflect his health status more so than remembering what it was like to watch him pitch five years ago.

Maybe extending the QO would be an easier decision to make if there hadn’t been so many injuries and under-performance from others on the team in 2021. It would be one thing if you were entering the offseason with a 95-win team not needing to make multiple big moves. But however much we wish, that’s simply not the reality. And much like the reality is that the Mets were a 77-win team in 2021, the reality is that Syndergaard isn’t worth $18.4 million for one year at this point in time. The owner’s money would be better spent elsewhere.

13 comments on “On extending the Qualifying Offer to Noah Syndergaard

  • Chris F

    I completely agree Brian, thanks for the breakdown. Any notion Syndergaard is going to come back and be special defies the laws of gravity. As I commented yesterday, he’s more on a track of Matt Harvey than anything else.

    In any circumstance, it emphasizes just how serious the starting rotation matter is. DeGrom has not pitched in half a season, and did not recover from his “sprained UCL” – everyone here should expect that to tear again. Our number one starter today is Walker. Imagine that.

  • Wobbit

    Just from a position of reason, one just can’t allow a potential talent like Syndergaard walk away without at least locking him into an interim period, where he shows who he is. Ideally that would be a two-year deal. I mean, if Familia is worth three years at 30 million (and he wasn’t), then certainly Noah is worth it. If he slides backwards, he’s a number three or four starter.
    The problem I see with Stroman is that we probably saw his best possible year, and subsequent years are likely to slip some. There’s this perennial problem of paying guys for the next three years for what they accomplished in the years past. Unless you think Stroman can duplicate his performance of this year in the years to come, I’d prefer getting a guy on the way up.

  • Woodrow

    18 million for a guy who pitched two innings in two seasons seems like a risky gamble. Starting pitching might be the overrated(and overpaid)position in 2020’s baseball.

    • Metsense

      That is a good point. 18.4m could fetch two relievers. For Gausman they could sign three good relievers and for Scherzer they could sign four good relievers. Good bullpens are optimal in today’s game. If the Mets had eight premium relievers then an injury to of the one relievers isn’t devastating. Maybe that’s where the Mets should focus and spend their free agent pitching money. It is a thought.

  • T.J.

    There is no doubt that Syndergaard is a huge unknown, and thus, any investment in him is a huge risk. Brian’s case is well made and thorough. All things considered, I would still offer Syndergaard the QO. Why? Well, the case is made in Brian’s first sentence. We have a very rich owner and a below average team. Every single guaranteed contract carries risk…based on analysis of past performance, some riskier than others. To pencil in Syndergaard as the #2 and 180 quality innings would be nuts. To pencil in Syndergaard as one of a pool of starters with 120-150 inning capability is reasonable. There is no one in the marketplace the can guarantee securing for one year with his upside. In order to get better soon and sustain it, the Mets need to do two things – retain their prospects and deepen the system, and us their financial advantage to improve the big league roster, top to bottom. They most certainly need to overspend to do that, and my preference would be to overspend on shorter-term deals. I can accept that risk on a team with little budgetary constraints, in need of pitching, on a guy under 30 who know NYC and has had success there.

    • Steve_S.

      I agree. And one more thing, Thor on a one-year deal would be super motivated to get the big contract after the 2022 season.

  • Footballhead

    I know I’m bleating like a sheep when I once again state that Syndegaard should not be offered a QO. Brian has of course, stated the reasons much more succinctly then I ever could.

    And though I wish deGrom would come back as good as new, I’m in agreement with Chris F, that a worse case scenario for Thor…and deGrom, could be a Matt Harvey situation. It’s why I would also trade deGrom and bundle him with Cano for minor league talent(s).

    Yes our owner has $$$, but even the Wilpons spent $$$ at times, and it didn’t work. That’s why the #1 priority this off season is to put in place a truly professional FO who is smart with $$$ and trades. Don’t be like the Dodgers… more like the Braves!

    • Bob P

      Footballhead, I would be ok with seeing what we can get for deGrom and if we get a haul then I think it may be best to move him as hard as that would be. With that said, I absolutely would not look to package him with Cano and lower the return. I’d release Cano and eat his contract before I would cheapen any potential return for deGrom, which would have to be huge to move him.

      • ChrisF

        Cano as a full no trade clause, and so is going nowhere. He greenlighted the move to NY to get back to NYC. Id pay him, and kick his sorry a$$ right out of the stadium and change the locks. On a good day he and Alderson could be sent out for sub sandwiches in Queens and change the locks when both are having lunch.

        • TexasGusCC

          I’m trying to laugh, and the site isn’t letting me…

      • Footballhead

        Yes, your right Bob P, and ChrisF pointed also to why any “bundling” of Cano wouldn’t work. I apologize for my ignorance and promise to think things through much better on future discussions and feed backs.

    • ChrisF

      The QO is too much. Truthfully, Id offer him 3 years at 10M$ per year and so control some time and distribute the money over more time.

      A guy could live on 30M$ pretty easily.

  • NYM6986

    Given the success of many pitchers who have had the TJ surgery, if we don’t sign Thor he will get offers from multiple teams willing to take the risk. We could try a 2/$25 million instead of the QO and it seems reasonable that both sides win and Thor has two seasons to cash in big once he’s a FA. I am reminded of a Sports Illustrated cover story from I believe 1972 that pondered who would become the majors first $200k player. Now some players make that in one game. It’s all out of whack. Looking forward to spending the owner’s money in the off-season…..lots of it.

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