Noah Syndergaard will not be taking the mound for the New York Mets this year.
Under ordinary circumstances, the last thing the New York Mets would need is Noah Syndergaard missing a year recuperating from Tommy John surgery. With baseball suspended indefinitely thanks to the coronavirus, losing the 27-year-old righthander to the procedure to be performed Thursday may or may not necessarily be so drastic.
It depends, too, upon how soon baseball can return, including upon how much teams will need to pick up from where they left off in spring training’s preparations.
“Knowing that so many players are not even having any access to throwing at all or hitting at all, but most importantly just throwing, and probably limited access to just training and exercise, it’s hard to imagine we could get ready in less than four weeks,” said Toronto Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro a few days ago. “We are not dealing with days and likely not weeks, but closer to months.”
That’s mostly speculation so far. Nobody really knows.
Syndergaard isn’t expected to return until April 2021 at the earliest. He’s the third high-profile starting pitcher to require Tommy John surgery this spring, following Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale and New York Yankees ace Luis Severino.
Mets’ general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said in a public statement that Syndergaard had elbow discomfort before the coronavirus compelled the suspension of spring training and delay of the season. An MRI revealed the ulnar collateral ligament tear and a subsequent second opinion pointed to the surgery, Van Wagenen added.
“Noah is an incredibly hard worker and a tremendous talent,” Van Wagenen continued. “While this is unfortunate, we have no doubt that Noah will be able to return to full strength and continue to be an integral part of our championship pursuits in the future.”
Losing Syndergaard means that, whenever baseball returns, the Mets most likely present a rotation of back-to-back Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, Steven Matz, and hoped-for bounceback signings Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha.
Before Syndergaard’s elbow issue turned to Tommy John surgery, the number five rotation job loomed as a battle between Porcello and Wacha, with thoughts of sending Matz to the bullpen in the mix of the Mets’ thoughts.
The tenacious righthander nicknamed Thor hasn’t exactly had an injury-free career to this point as it is. On at least one occasion an injury was accompanied by controversy. That was when Syndergaard lost most of 2017 to a right lateral muscle strain.
He’d missed one start against the Atlanta Braves over elbow and shoulder discomfort, but missed a day-after appointment for an MRI. He then threw a bullpen session two days before his next scheduled start, against the Washington Nationals, and both himself and a few coaches watching the session swore he looked and felt fine.
Then he faced the Nats. He tried throwing bullets that went few places he wanted them to go, avoiding Nats bats being one of them. Then, he tried throwing a few off-speed pitches. In the second inning, with the Nats getting friskier, Syndergaard strained his right lateral muscle and had to leave the game.
The Nats ended up winning what resembled a terrorist attack, 23-5. Syndergaard ended up on the shelf until late that September. A host of other injuries helped sink the Mets that season while they were at it.
In 2018, Syndergaard became the second Met to strike out ten or more on Opening Day (Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez was the first thirteen years earlier), but he missed all June and the first fortnight of July with an index finger injury. Then he missed the final third of July and a piece of August with hand, foot, and mouth disease.
Syndergaard’s most famous performance, of course, is his Game Three start in the 2015 World Series. With the Mets down 2-0 to the Kansas City Royals, particularly due to Royals leadoff man Alcides Escobar being a little too comfortable at the plate in the first two games, Syndergaard brought down the house at Citi Field when he started the game by knocking Escobar down with a fastball up, in, and tight.
“Now, that‘s announcing yourself,” said Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci, working as a Fox Sports analyst for that Series, while Mike Moustakas and other Royals snapped and barked from the dugout. “Game on!” Syndergaard struck Escobar out as the first of his six punchouts in the Mets’ 9-3 win.
The Royals called it “weak,” but Syndergaard’s opening message did the job. It was the only game those Mets won in a Series they actually could have taken otherwise if not for their porous defense.
The coronavirus is anything but a blessing, of course, no matter what certain gamy politicians using it to further their own agendae might imply. Looking at a potential half baseball season, though, losing Syndergaard when you’re as endowed in arms as this year’s Mets stood to be isn’t as harrowing as it might be if they had to lose him for a typical full season.