Free agent right-hander Noah Syndergaard is reportedly drawing interest from multiple clubs. In an appearance on Foul Territory, Robert Murray of FanSided relayed that teams are looking at the righty as a bounceback candidate and hoping for a buy-low opportunity.
It’s understandable why clubs would consider such a move but the reason that Syndergaard is available in a buy-low situation is that his 2023 was so dismal. He signed a one-year, $13MM deal with the Dodgers but posted an earned run average of 7.16 in his 12 starts for that club. He was flipped to the Guardians at the deadline in a swap of struggling players, with Amed Rosario going to the Dodgers. Syndergaard took the ball six times for the Guards with slightly better results, as his ERA was 5.40 in those. But he was nonetheless designated for assignment and released at the end of August. He didn’t sign anywhere else for the final month of the season.
Despite that rough campaign, Syndergaard might be a beneficiary of the robust market for starting pitchers, as various reports suggest that the demand for rotation help is incredibly high. Aaron Nola got a hefty $172MM guarantee over seven years to return to the Phillies. But even Lance Lynn, who was coming off a very poor season, received a guarantee of $11MM on a one-year deal with the Cardinals.
That perhaps gives some hope to Syndergaard, but on the other hand, his strong results are now pretty far in the past. Lynn had a 5.73 ERA in 2023 while allowing 44 home runs but he still struck out 23.6% of batters. He also had a much more palatable ERA of 3.99 in 2022 with a 24.2% strikeout rate. Despite his struggles this year, there are at least some encouraging things under the hood.
It’s hard to say the same for Syndergaard, who struck out just 14.3% of batters faced in 2023. Like Lynn, his ERA was much better in 2022, coming in at 3.94. But he did that despite striking out just 16.8% of opponents in that season. He missed all of 2020 and most of 2021 recovering from Tommy John surgery so a bit of rust was to be expected but he’s yet to show signs of returning anywhere near his pre-surgery form.
From 2015 to 2019, he posted a 3.31 ERA over 716 innings. In the process, he struck out 26.4% of batters faced, walked just 5.7% and kept 49.1% of balls in play on the ground. Prior to the surgery, his four-seam fastball and sinker each average between 97 and 99 mph but the past two years have seen him average in the 92-94 mph range. His slider averaged 92-93 mph before he went under the knife but he’s been around 85 mph since. Those diminished weapons have naturally reduced his ability to punch out big league hitters and he’s now had four straight years of either being injured or posting middling results.
Now 31, it’s fair to wonder if there’s a path to turn things around. The Dodgers and Guardians are two organizations with strong reputations for getting the most out of pitchers but each gave up on Syndergaard last year. Though if the market for starters is as strong as the reporting indicates, the contracts for the top guys will be wild and there figures to be strong competition for even mid-rotation arms and back-end guys. More than half the league has reportedly checked in on Seth Lugo while, as mentioned, Lynn got an eight-figure guarantee coming off a nightmare season. Perhaps that will lead some club to taking a flier on Syndergaard and hoping for the best.