Based on the turbulence of the past week, it did not go unnoticed Thursday that Noah Syndergaard’s locker at Nationals Park is the one that previously was occupied by another lightning rod of the Mets’ rotation, Matt Harvey.
Harvey had his terse exchanges with the media in that very spot, and after the team’s patience eventually buckled at the start of last season, the once-trumpeted Dark Knight was shipped to Cincinnati in the May 8 trade for Devin Mesoraco.
Obviously, there were a multitude of issues that ultimately led to Harvey’s Flushing dismissal, not the least of which was his deteriorating skills, in the Mets’ estimation. But with Harvey’s shadow long gone, Syndergaard — who will start Saturday against the Nationals — has stepped up again to be a more visible (and vocal) presence, whether it’s at the microphone or on social media.
As one of the guys documenting his exploits, I’m all in favor of Syndergaard pushing his Thor persona, even if he strayed a bit too far in ripping Tuesday’s goodwill tour to Syracuse, a customary exercise teams often do for their minor-league affiliates. With David Wright out of the picture, the Mets could use some of the leadership that Syndergaard seems more than willing to provide. It’s just that his compass occasionally needs recalibrating.
The most important pulpit for Syndergaard, however, remains the mound, and Saturday represents his first chance this season to have his electric arm do the talking. We’ve all been wrapped up in his Syracuse drama and the lobbying for Jacob deGrom, but that narrative should evaporate quickly along with the vapor trails from Syndergaard’s triple-digit fastballs.
For what it’s worth, he mowed through his Grapefruit League tuneup with a 1.88 ERA in 14 1⁄3 innings. He struck out 13 and walked two in his final two starts. As long as he is healthy, there’s rarely a concern about his performance, and he didn’t have as much as a blip in the six weeks of spring training — other than maybe tossing his glove in frustration during his minor-league duel with deGrom on the back fields.
Now that deGrom is the reigning Cy Young winner and is looking like a Met for life after getting his five-year, $137.5 million extension, Sydnergaard can’t help but be the No. 2 of this deeply talented rotation. But his public campaign to get deGrom that deal — “Pay the man already,” he said Sunday — won him admiration in the clubhouse even before he threw a pitch that counts.
“We’re all out there fighting together, so we got each other’s backs,” deGrom said. “That was a way of him showing he supported me. Just the same way we’re all in the dugout rooting for each other. We want to win here. Some of the guys here had a taste of it in 2015 and know what that is like. That’s what we want to get to.”
Speaking of 2015, that’s when Syndergaard made a name for himself on the national stage by knocking down the Royals’ Alcides Escobar with a 99-mph fastball to open Game 3 of the World Series. When told the Royals were upset, he said, “They can meet me 60 feet, 6 inches away. I’ve got no problem with that.”
None of the Royals took up the 6-6, 240-pound Syndergaard on his offer, and few in the sport would dare to. To have any chance of getting back to the playoffs, the Mets will need Syndergaard to be at his intimidating best, which is sort of baffling when you consider they weighed including him in a three-way trade for J.T. Realmuto in December.
But there’s always going to be trade chatter around Syndergaard, who avoided arbitration this winter by settling on a one-year, $6 million deal. He’s going to start getting much more expensive, too.
Based on their past spending habits, it seems unlikely that the Mets will give Syndergaard a worthwhile extension right now, although a Cy Young-worthy season this year would give him a Jake-type bump next winter.
With Brodie Van Wagenen’s bold talk of playoffs and championships, the Mets need Syndergaard more than ever now. It’s why he’ll get plenty of latitude when he flexes his social-media muscles or expresses opinions that management may not share.
To his credit, Syndergaard smoothed over the Syracuse tempest by racing around the Carrier Dome holding a gigantic white flag with an orange “S.’’ Like a two-on, two-out jam, he found a way out of it.
Next up is the Nationals, and you can expect Syndergaard — with so much at stake — to be done fooling around.