Examining Noah Syndergaard's Mets future as his free agency looms

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313118648 NoahSyndergaardTREATED
313118648 NoahSyndergaardTREATED

Three intriguing things happened on the Noah Syndergaard front on Thursday.

First, the big Mets right-hander (as a Brooklyn Cyclone) took the mound in a game for the first time since suffering a setback during his Tommy John surgery recovery.

Second, Syndergaard talked about his impending free agency, saying that he can't imagine leaving New York and the Mets while adding that he loves the culture of the city and has a desire to get back to a moment with the Mets that's similar to the 2015 World Series run.

Third, Syndergaard said that he has been advised by doctors to not throw his slider for the remainder of the 2021 season, noting that they told him it could've caused his setback earlier this year. He won't be throwing his curve for the rest of the season, either.

Depending on how long the Mets have known about what will be the absence of Syndergaard's slider and curve this season (one would assume they've known for a bit), his return for the last month or so of 2021 as a reliever instead of a starter (which has been in the works for a while) makes all the sense in the world.

With a two-pitch mix (three if you separate Syndergaard's two-seam and four-seam fastballs), pitching in relief could maximize his potential.

Noah Syndergaard pitching with Brooklyn Cyclones
Noah Syndergaard pitching with Brooklyn Cyclones

Bringing Syndergaard back in relief this season also means he'll be able to return faster, since he won't have to stretch out to be able to handle the workload of a starter.

Even before Thursday, there was already tons of intrigue surrounding Syndergaard's return and his potential Mets future with him set for free agency after the season.

Now, things are even more interesting.

With the Mets hopefully getting Syndergaard back on the big league club soon, questions about his future will go right along with his return.

And there seem to be three ways Syndergaard's Mets future could play out...

Make him a Qualifying Offer

Along with Syndergaard, the Mets will have to consider making a qualifying offer to Michael Conforto, whose bat has come alive lately after the majority of his season was ruined by injury and ineffectiveness.

Teams can make multiple qualifying offers in one offseason, so this doesn't have to be an either/or scenario.

Jul 30, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets injured starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard (34) works out in the outfield before a game against the Cincinnati Reds at Citi Field.
Jul 30, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets injured starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard (34) works out in the outfield before a game against the Cincinnati Reds at Citi Field.

The fact that the Mets won't see Syndergaard throw his slider or curve in-game this season makes the decision on him even trickier.

But if he returns and is largely dominant as a fastball/changeup pitcher, and he expects to unleash his slider and curve again in 2022, it would seem like malpractice to not extend the roughly $20 million one-year qualifying offer to him or...

Try to sign him to a multiyear deal

Because Syndergaard hasn't pitched since 2019 and because he won't have half his arsenal when he returns in 2021, it's hard to see any team making him an enormous offer on the free agent market.

And that is really a shame when you consider that from 2015 to 2019, Syndergaard was quite simply one of the best pitchers in baseball, with a 3.31 ERA (2.92 FIP) and 1.16 WHIP with 9.7 K/9 in 716 innings.

Sep 24, 2019; New York City, NY, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard (34) pitches against the Miami Marlins during the first inning at Citi Field.
Sep 24, 2019; New York City, NY, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard (34) pitches against the Miami Marlins during the first inning at Citi Field.

Despite the above, there are still some who say Syndergaard underwhelmed. The truth is that he did not. He was really damn good, and will be entering his age-29 season in 2022. He's also unfazed by the New York market and was tremendous during the 2015 postseason and 2016 Wild Card game.

For all of those reasons, the Mets should consider inking him to a multiyear deal.

Again, a lot of this will have to do with how he looks when he returns. But when it comes to a pitcher with the stuff and demeanor of Syndergaard who has embraced the city, embraced the fans, and wants to be here, it should be one of the Mets' main offseason goals to work out a contract that makes sense for both sides.

Let him walk for nothing

Barring another setback for Syndergaard, this simply cannot happen.

And when you take into account the already precarious state of the Mets' starting rotation heading into next season, the dearth of impact starters expected to be on the free agent market, and the damage it would do to the Mets' farm system to trade for an ace-level starter, bringing Syndergaard back is a no-brainer.

New York Mets injured starting pitchers Jacob deGrom (left) and Noah Syndergaard walk in from the bullpen before a game against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field.
New York Mets injured starting pitchers Jacob deGrom (left) and Noah Syndergaard walk in from the bullpen before a game against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field.

Even if the Mets' rotation situation wasn't as precarious as it is, bringing Syndergaard back would still be a no-brainer.

So, what should the Mets do?

If Syndergaard's return is successful this season and he's ready to bring back the slider and curve in 2022, the Mets' first option here should be to sign him to a multiyear deal.

Get creative if you have to, but make it clear to Syndergaard that he's valued as a part of the future.

If for some reason a deal can't be worked out, the backup plan should be to extend the qualifying offer and hope Syndergaard accepts.

If he does, the Mets can try to extend him during the 2022 season.

If he doesn't, the Mets will get draft pick compensation.

The Mets have been trying to recapture the magic of 2015 for six years. That magic included Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom at the top of the rotation. And while pretty much everything has changed around them, New York can still try to get back to the top of the mountain with deGrom and Syndergaard as anchors.