The Mets are seeing significant trade interest in 26-year-old RHP Noah Syndergaard, SNY's Andy Martino reported on Friday, adding that the team is looking at potential free agent starting pitching options to replace him in the event of a trade.
My understanding, after talking to MLB insiders this past weekend, was that to move Syndergaard, the Mets would need to get back a comparable, elite position player able to help the team win in 2019.
However, if the plan is to replace Syndergaard in the rotation with, say, free-agent Patrick Corbin, it's possible Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen decides to instead deal Syndergaard for major-league ready prospects.
Along those lines, the Yankees acquired potential-ace James Paxton from the Mariners on Monday for top-rated LHP Justus Sheffield, as well as Low-A outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams and Triple-A RH pitcher Erik Swanson.
"This is (a) steal for the Yankees," a source from an AL East rival told me, which parrots what most experts have said in print about the swap. "In regards to the Mets, this is the minimum of what they should get for Syndergaard, who is absolutely more valuable than Paxton."
According to the above source, as well as other talent evaluators I talked with, while all agree Sheffield can be a mid-rotation starting pitcher, the majority see Thompson-Williams as just a fleet-footed, fourth outfielder with Swanson projecting as a back-of-the-rotation guy or one-pitch reliever.
"Seattle should have gotten more, especially given the supply and demand in the current market for controllable, affordable starting pitchers," a second team executive said.
So, if the Mets decide to switch gears and aim for multiple prospects instead of one position player with experience that can help them win now, what would a deal look like based on how people reacted to Seattle's return for Paxton?
For starters, Syndergaard is a better get than Paxton. Noah is younger, consistently more dominant, and under team control for a longer period of time. Similarly, Syndergaard has thrown at least 150 innings during three of his four big-league seasons, whereas Paxton has done so only once in six seasons. In terms of overall statistics, Syndergaard's career ERA, FIP, WHIP and strikeouts/nine innings are all better than Paxton. And, possibly most important, whereas Paxton is due to earn $9 million next season, Syndergaard will likely be paid no more than $5 million.
Insiders I surveyed believe Syndergaard will earn roughly $30 million the next three seasons before being eligible for free agency after the 2021 season.
There are close to a dozen teams looking to add a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. And, while some will no doubt turn to the free-agent market, trading expendable prospects for Syndergaard may prove to be the more cost-effective solution.
The Padres are the only name in print this winter connected to Syndergaard, who MLB sources say they've been scouting since this past summer. So, for the purposes of this article, I'm going to focus on potential return from San Diego that is significantly better than what the Mariners got for Paxton.
The Padres will say the second-best prospect in baseball, Fernando Tatis Jr., is unavailable, which is exactly why the Mets should push to acquire him. I'll assume San Diego refuses, in which case the Mets could justifiably back off Tatis and shift to catching prospect Francisco Mejia.
Instead of being behind the plate, Mejia spent the AFL playing third base, which is an added bonus. He's average behind the plate, but at it he's a sturdy, switch-hitting, aggressive hitter that makes hard contact. More important, he's ready to start this coming season. So while he may still be a 'prospect,' he's essentially a big-league player hopefully able to help the Mets win in 2019 and the next five seasons.
Mejia would headline the deal for Syndergaard, much like Sheffield headlined the deal for Paxton. However, while Sheffield is the 30th-best prospect in baseball with a mid-range ceiling, Mejia checks in at No. 26 and is currently considered the league's second-best young catcher and is projected to be an All Star.
Neither of Seattle's other imports, Thompson-Williams and Swanson, ranked among the league's Top 100 prospects. However, because Syndergaard is more valuable than Paxton, San Diego's package must also include another Top 100 guy, such as 21-year-old infielder Luis Urias, who checks in at No. 27.
The Padres may want to hang on to Urias, who can fill a role for them next season. In that case, you could potentially replace him in this deal with elite LHP prospect MacKenzie Gore, who you can read more about here.
That said, the Mets need position players, so I would push for Urias, who has an advanced knowledge of the strike zone and excellent pitch recognition, according to MLB.com. He's also known for having a level swing, he gets on base, consistently puts the ball in play, he walks more than he strikes out, and ranks as a plus defender at both shortstop and second base.
"Overall, Urias has the ingredients to hit atop a lineup while manning a middle-infield position for a long, long time," MLB.com currently writes in their latest scouting report.
It's a lot to ask of a team to part with two prospects from the game's top 30, so it's fair that the third player in the deal be an unranked, high-ceiling guy, such as RHP Cal Quantrill.
Quantrill, 23, is currently ranked the 11th-best prospect in San Diego's system. He got his first taste of Triple-A last season, during which he impressed scouts with his control, mid-to-upper 90s fastball and a low-80s changeup, both of which he maintained late in games. He's a big kid, two years removed from Tommy John surgery and likely to crack the league's Top 100 before the end of this season.
What would I do...
In the event the Mets decide to deal Syndergaard, I still prefer they swap him for an equally productive position player with an impressive track record, such as Cubs 3B Kris Bryant. I love prospects, but Byrant has played in a big market where he's won a World Series, he's conditioned for what he will face in New York and he plays a position on the infield that could use an upgrade at Citi Field.
That said, if Syndergaard is getting moved for prospects, it has to include two major-league ready prospects on MLB.com's Top 100, such as Mejia and Urias, as well a third prospect on the verge of cracking the Top 100 (but someone that is hardly a sure thing), such as Quantrill.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!