NEW YORK -- When the trade talks had intensified between the Nationals and White Sox and there seemed a very real possibility Chris Sale could join Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg in D.C., a national baseball reporter tweeted that a rotation starring that trio would be “baseball’s best.”
Asked to revisit the comment Tuesday while dressed as Santa to entertain schoolchildren at Citi Field, Syndergaard remained bullish about the Mets. So what if five of the other six starting pitchers with major league experience alongside Syndergaard are returning from surgeries?
“Their ability is outstanding,” Syndergaard said. “We’re all a tight-knit brotherhood.”
For all the rightful hubbub about the Mets’ arsenal of young starting pitching, it actually is notable that the primary five weapons -- Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler -- have never pitched a single rotation turn together in their careers. Two months before Syndergaard made his major league debut in May 2015, Wheeler underwent Tommy John surgery. Wheeler still has not returned to the majors because of multiple setbacks, although he is projected to contribute from the get-go next season, potentially in the bullpen to shave innings.
Meanwhile, last season, Harvey underwent surgery in July to remove a rib and relieve thoracic outlet syndrome. DeGrom had surgery in September to reposition the ulnar nerve in his pitching elbow. And Matz, sidelined late in the season by a left shoulder impingement that irritated the rotator cuff, had surgery in October to remove a massive bone spur from his pitching elbow. Even Robert Gsellman, who teamed with fellow rookie Seth Lugo to reinforce the rotation after multiple pitchers went down, needed offseason surgery to repair a labrum tear in his non-pitching shoulder.
“We were lucky with what Gsellman and Lugo did,” manager Terry Collins said. “But, like I said before, the best pitching staffs are the healthiest. So we've got these five horses, and we’ve got to make sure we run them out there. So we're going to be very, very diligent in trying to make sure they're rested, we don't overwork them, we keep an eye on not just pitch counts but their innings limits. And hopefully we break camp with all five of them and we will manage it from there.”
Syndergaard, for his part, pitched throughout last season with what has been portrayed as a modest bone spur in his pitching elbow. Mets officials maintain the spur is so inconsequential it does not require removal and will not affect Syndergaard in 2017.
“I think this one is so insignificant in the eyes of the physicians,” general manager Sandy Alderson said. “It was probably blown a little bit out of proportion last year, which tends to happen around the Mets.”
It clearly did not slow Syndergaard last season.
Syndergaard, still only 24 years old, went 14-9 with a 2.60 ERA in 31 appearances (30 starts) for the Mets in 2016. He finished third in MLB in ERA, trailing only the Cubs' duo of Kyle Hendricks (2.13) and Jon Lester (2.44). Syndergaard earned his first All-Star selection. He also averaged the highest velocity in the majors with his fastball (98.0 mph), slider (90.9 mph) and changeup (89.8 mph) among qualified starters, according to FanGraphs. Syndergaard is the first pitcher in modern MLB history with 350 strikeouts and no more than 80 walks through 54 career starts.
“I was really pleased with how my routine went,” Syndergaard said. “Getting to the field every day and knowing exactly what I needed to do really helped me on the field. It really helped me compete at the highest of my ability.”
Still, out of an abundance of caution, Syndergaard will not participate in the World Baseball Classic during spring training.
"Noah feels his performance the past two years is in large part due to his offseason and spring workout routines," agent Ryan Hamill said. "After consulting with the Mets, and given the injuries that plagued their rotation last year and his role on the team moving forward, both Noah and the Mets feel it is important to stay in his established routine. It is a tremendous honor to be considered to play for Team USA and Noah does not take the prospect of playing in the WBC lightly. But he also feels strongly about his responsibility to the Mets, their fan base and their quest to win a World Series."
Said Syndergaard: “I’m focused on competing in MLB and getting to a World Series. That’s really all I’m focused on.”