Noah Syndergaard is out indefinitely with a partial tear of his lat muscle and the next question is: What now for the New York Mets?
Maybe the injury is related to the sore biceps that caused the right-hander to bail on a start last Thursday. Maybe it’s just a coincidence. Maybe it could have been avoided. We can criticize the way the Mets handled the situation -- “So we are back to standard default position with the Mets,” wrote Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post, “rolling our eyes at how they so expertly dump kerosene on their own heads.” -- but what’s done is done. Syndergaard is going to the disabled list, and the Mets have to try to salvage their season after this train wreck of a first month.
It’s not going to be Steven Matz or Seth Lugo stepping into the rotation spot. They’re both injured as well, and early June is an optimistic timetable for either of those two. There aren’t many inspiring options in the rotation at Triple-A Las Vegas, even understanding the difficulty of pitching there. Rafael Montero has had two good starts there, but speaking of kerosene, that’s pretty much what Montero brings to the mound whenever he pitches in the majors. In 6⅔ innings with the Mets in 2017, he allowed 16 hits and eight walks. Sean Gilmartin, currently in the bullpen, could get the chance. He has made just two major league starts, but was a starter throughout his minor league career.
If Montero or Gilmartin can bridge the gap until Matz or Lugo is ready, or until Syndergaard can return, maybe the Mets just sit tight. But they also could try to do something big. Buster Olney wrote Sunday about the potential flood of starting pitchers on the trade market. Familiar names Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey, pitching on one-year contracts for the Braves, are trade candidates, as is Jaime Garcia, in the final year of his contract. Jason Vargas is pitching well for the Royals, who appear to be going nowhere after losing nine in a row, and Scott Feldman would be a cheap acquisition from the Reds.
None of those players move the needle much, however. If the Mets want to do something more impactful, Jose Quintana of the White Sox is a name out there, but how about this idea: Matt Harvey to the Diamondbacks for Zack Greinke. Of course, that doesn’t fix the Syndergaard hole in the rotation, and the Mets take on a bigger salary, but they trade Harvey, who is off to a slow start and is a free agent after 2018, for a pitcher who is signed through 2021. The D-backs shed Greinke’s long-term salary for a pitcher who can still help them in 2017 and 2018.
More likely, there isn’t much the Mets can do except wait and hope Syndergaard, Matz and Lugo can get healthy. What’s the impact of the loss of Syndergaard? If he’s projected as a 6-WAR starter, he’s worth about one win above replacement level each month. Maybe that’s a conservative estimate; plus, the Mets may be replacing him with a sub-replacement level pitcher. If he misses two months, we could be looking at three or four wins of value.
That’s obviously significant as the Mets are 10-14 and already 6.5 games behind the Nationals. On the other hand, the National League -- so far -- looks more balanced than in 2016, with the Giants off to a worse start than the Mets, so the wild-card race could end up being a tight affair where 85 wins is enough. It’s hard to be patient, but that’s what the Mets need to do.
They also could make headlines by doing something else: Calling up Keith Law’s No. 1 overall prospect, shortstop Amed Rosario, and moving Asdrubal Cabrera to third base to replace the struggling Jose Reyes (although Cabrera hasn’t been much better). Maybe Curtis Granderson, hitting .128, finds a permanent spot on the bench.
As much as the focus right now is on Syndergaard, the Mets are hitting .217 and rank 11th in runs. That’s really the bigger picture: The Mets just haven’t looked good in any facet of the game, and it’s going to be tough to change that.