You know what would scare the heck out of me if I ran the Mets and was considering whether to trade Noah Syndergaard?
The Mets botched every step along the way this year with d’Arnaud. They tendered him a contract when maybe they should have just redirected his $3.515 million elsewhere. If you tender d’Arnaud, then your primary choice in catcher can’t be another offensive-first receiver with big defensive deficiencies like Wilson Ramos.
If you tender d’Arnaud after a season lost following Tommy John surgery, then reach an understanding that d’Arnaud must use the full month of injury rehab to get his hitting timing back. If you are going to shorten the rehab to one week — as the Mets did — then give d’Arnaud more than 25 disjointed plate appearances to prove himself before releasing him.
But here is what should chill the Mets: Once d’Arnaud was free, the Dodgers (who pursued d’Arnaud in trades in the offseason) signed him and not long after sold him to the Rays. If we were making a list of organizations that have their act together, Los Angeles and Tampa Bay would be in the top five. If I ran the Mets — decidedly not in the top five — I would be asking my baseball operations what did well-run franchises see in d’Arnaud that we didn’t, particularly now that he has become a valuable piece for the Rays?
Because this would touch on Syndergaard. He has the stuff of a top-10 starter in the majors. Why has that not been brandished consistently with the Mets, particularly after a pitching coach in Mickey Callaway was named manager?
The Mets should be in the marketplace with Syndergaard, seeing how high the bidding gets. As one NL executive said, “The scenario of him being good on a good Met team are becoming more remote.”
Translation: Syndergaard is a free agent after the 2021 season. Are the Mets going to continue to believe the following combination of events will happen before the righty leaves: 1) He stays healthy. 2) His full skill flourishes. 3) Nos. 1 and 2 happen for a contending Mets team in either 2020 or 2021.
The odds of that all working out for the Mets is not great and, thus, his best value to the team is probably in a trade. But the Mets have to be wondering if a club such as the Astros knows what they don’t — notably, how to evoke the best of health and production from Syndergaard.
Would this be d’Arnaud on a larger scale?
The story of the 2019 Mets, to date, is that every significant player they imported in the offseason has performed worse and/or battled health issues while castoffs such as d’Arnaud, Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak improved their results after being exported.
So as much as this might be the right time to maximize Syndergaard, perhaps the proper Mets course is to hold him and try to determine why so many transactions have gone so wrong. Of course, the Mets have bottomed out before and promised to investigate why. That they are en route to winning 70-something games for the ninth time in 11 years screams they are not very good at self-examination, either.
The constant in the losing is ownership, and I would suggest this to the Wilpons: You might go faster if you went slow. Fred Wilpon, in particular, has not had the stomach for a total teardown, probably because he is 82 and winning sooner than later is imperative to him. But that has led to ownership delusion that a strong structure can be built on sand. A former Mets employee recently said to me, “They are not a transaction or two away, though that is what ownership wants to believe. The problem is systemic.”
The Mets want to believe if they just fix the lineup or just fix the bullpen everything will be good. But the Yankees and Dodgers and Astros are good because they have built waves of talent to better withstand injury and performance failure. You need a lot of options over 162 games, when 6,200 plate appearances and 1,400 innings need to be filled. The Mets still lack the organizational depth to cover all of this, and when a team lacks depth, it is building on sand, not on a solid base.
A good trade of Syndergaard would deepen the cupboard. But do you trust the folks who messed up the d’Arnaud process every step of the way and have not been able to fully unlock the extreme talent of Syndergaard to handle this well?
It is the largest Mets problem — the need to recognize their near-term success and failure is not about one or two moves, but the process to create thoroughness and consistency — plus the highest level of information from scouts, analytics, sports scientists, medical, psychological, etc. They should be digging down on the d’Arnaud progression and really coming to peace with how they made their determination every step of the way, and what the Dodgers and Rays saw that they did not.
D’Arnaud is gone, but there should be lessons that linger for this organization.
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