NEW YORK – Don’t do this to yourselves again, Toronto Blue Jays fans. You already agonized over the R.A. Dickey trade in 2015, when Noah Syndergaard helped carry the New York Mets to the World Series, and again the next year, when he produced a 6.4-win season, as calculated by Fangraphs.
We get that seeing him fire 99 m.p.h. lasers like Han Solo storming through the Death Star for five innings Tuesday in a 12-2 Mets rout still hurts, even after Dickey gave the Blue Jays 824.1 innings over four seasons and was a stabilizing pillar on consecutive post-season teams. Of all the trades that former GM Alex Anthopoulos made, that one remains the most polarizing.
But it’s worth remembering that for all of Syndergaard’s awe-inspiring power, he’s still logged only 415.2 innings, and for all the hype around him, Mets pitching coach Dave Eiland told the New York Post this week that, “he is yet to do a whole lot at the major-league level.”
Now, there very well should be plenty more to come for the 25-year-old, and that is sure to alter the equation of the trade, especially as the highs of the 2015 and ’16 post-season runs get diluted by the passage of time.
And with the current Blue Jays (21-21) back at .500 after a ninth loss in 13 games and their rotation continuing to struggle – Jaime Garcia didn’t survive a five-run fourth, allowing an inning of at least three runs for the third time in four starts – eyes are sure to be cast longingly toward the path not taken.
“We need to tighten up our rotation, there’s no doubt about it,” said manager John Gibbons. “I’m still confident that will change because we’re too good down there but it’s just not happening right now.”
Said Garcia: “I’m disappointed in myself. I feel like I haven’t been doing the job. I’m trying my best, working hard, trying to find ways to keep us in the ballgame, trying to find ways to go deep.”
Wondering what might have been is part of the risk inherent to any future-for-now trade, although the Syndergaard deal is far from the most lopsided one in team history.
A leading contender for that honour would be the acquisition of David Cone in 1992 for outfield prospect Ryan Thompson, whom then GM Pat Gillick was reluctant to surrender, and infielder Jeff Kent, who hit 377 homers over 17 seasons in a borderline Hall of Fame calibre career.
Cone helped the Blue Jays win the World Series for the first time, so no regrets. But how different might the post championship years have been for the Blue Jays with Kent covering the gap between Roberto Alomar and Orlando Hudson at second base rather than Tomas Perez, Domingo Cedeno, Tilson Brito, Carlos Garcia, Craig Grebeck and Homer Bush?
Viewed through that lens, the Blue Jays got far more Dickey than they did from Cone, while Kent did far more in his career than Syndergaard has, at least so far. (Far more costly was the July 19, 2000 acquisition of Esteban Loaiza for Darwin Cubillan and Michael Young, who developed into a seven-time all-star)
“We probably all got good pitches to hit at some point, we didn’t really do too much with them,” said Russell Martin, who started at catcher but played shortstop for the first time in his big-league career during the eighth inning. “But Syndergaard is a tough guy to score runs off.”
Eiland’s comments on Syndergaard this week were a reminder that in a market where hyperbole is a staple, he’s been built up more than he’s delivered, even if the raw ability is inarguable.
In striking out the side in the first inning, Syndergaard threw 15 pitches, only three slower than 98.3 m.p.h., 10 of them 99 or higher, topping out at 100.2.
That kind of stuff creates all kinds of margin for error, and Syndergaard needed it, as he allowed a two-run single to Yangervis Solarte in the third that put the Blue Jays up 2-1. But he induced a Kevin Pillar flyout to right to end the threat and then killed a first and second, one-out jam in the fifth by getting Teoscar Hernandez to hit into an inning-ending double play on a 96.7 m.p.h. sinker.
“He pitched five innings and it looked like he was lucky to get five innings. He got that double play,” said Martin. “Any time you face a pitcher like that, if you can get him out of the game in the fifth inning, you’ve done your job.”
Added Gibbons: “We knew what we were up against, he used to be here. We worked him, we got him out of there, you like it when that happens, but by that time the cat was out of the bag anyway. He’s one of the elite pitchers, he’s only going to get better.”
Syndergaard allowed two runs on five hits and two walks with seven strikeouts, throwing 103 pitches in the process. Just to go full troll on everyone, he ripped an RBI double in the second inning to open the scoring and hit a sacrifice fly that tied the game 2-2 in the fourth.
Given the way Blue Jays starters have pitched this season, they’d gladly take an outing like that, but whether it’s worth undoing everything since 2013 to get it is another matter.