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Rays trade target: RHP Noah Syndergaard

The Rays have the chips, but do they want to cash in on Thor?

MLB: New York Mets at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays are entering their window of contention.

They stunned early season critics by surging past the .500 mark and winning 90 games in 2018, despite trading away most of their star talent from their previous campaigns. Now, as they enter a window of contention in 2019, should they consider pursuing star talents.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post recently wrote an article on Noah Syndergaard and the reality the New York Mets face when it comes to keeping their star northgod. In the article, Sherman speculates the Rays may pursue Syndergaard, with the reason being that the Rays are big fish hunting and have one of the best farm systems in baseball to pursue these marquee targets.

This perception fuels belief Noah Syndergaard could be traded as part of a quick statement of decisiveness by a new administration.

The Padres and Reds are among the teams that have interest, and keep an eye out for the Rays, who have a deep system and want to big game hunt for young, controllable players in a window in which they think they are about to contend.

However, Sherman isn’t the only pundit around the game to match the Rays up with Syndergaard. Jon Heyman says that it could make sense for the Rays to pay the price for Thor, thanks to their glut of middle infielders and pitching prospects.

A day later, speculation for a Syndergaard trade is only increasing:

Noah Syndergaard’s value

Syndergaard was the 38th overall selection in the 2010 draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. He was flipped to the New York Mets in the deal that brought R.A. Dickey to Toronto during the 2012-2013 offseason. At that point in time, Syndergaard was already among the top 100 prospects in the game, and then he proceeded to dominate and establish himself as the 11th best prospect in all of baseball following the 2014 season.

He reached the majors in 2015 and hasn’t looked back since, leaving a path of bewildered and awestruck hitters behind him. He has faced a few bumps in the road, with nagging injuries: Hand Foot and Mouth disease, strained ligament in his index finger, and a torn right lat muscle.

When healthy, Syndergaard is among the top pitchers in the game. His average fastball velocity in 2018 was at 97.5, which is among the highest for starting pitchers in baseball. He started 25 games for the Mets and finished the year with a 3.03 ERA and a 2.80 FIP to go along with a 24.1 K% and 6.1 BB%.

He still under contract for three more seasons. A Super Two player, Syndergaard went through his first arbitration this past offseason and earned $2.975M in 2018. He is projected to make $5.9M in arbitration this offseason.

During their mid-season trade valuation rankings, FanGraphs tabbed Noah Syndergaard as having the 29th highest trade value, just ahead of Shohei Ohtani, but industry perception of a new GM pushing to trade such a talented player may depress his value overall.

As for Syndergaard’s literal trade value, the conversation begins with how much production you think you’ll get out of Thor (in this case, in WAR), and what you think the value of a win is worth.

Syndergaard has produced 3.1, 6.3, and 4.2 in his three seasons of at least 150 innings pitched. On average that’s a 4.5 win player who is entering his prime. On the flip side, a conservative projection expects something like half a win less than previous production. Steamer, for instance, projects a 3.6 win season following his 4.2 win campaign in 2018.

Depending on how conservative you want to be with each category, you can derive very different estimates for Syndegaard’s trade value. This is why we’ve produced a trade value calculator that you can download and utilize any time to explore the various scenarios.

For instance, let’s say you think the trade market values a win at $10 million, and that the aforementioned method of -0.5 wins per each year is the best method of evaluation. In that case you’d get something like $58 million in trade value for Syndergaard:

The salary amount is derived from his actual 2018 Super Two salary of $2.975 million and his 2019 projection from MLBTR of $5.9 million, and by applying the 20/40/60/80 percent rule of thumb.

Now, let’s say you think Syndergaard is a guaranteed average of 4.5 WAR per year (he is entering his prime, after all), but you don’t think the value of the win should be inflated by the trade market, and you prefer something more reasonable like $8 million.

In that scenario, you get something like $66 million:

If you feel that WAR projection is spot on, but the $/WAR really should be $10 million, then Syndergaard’s trade value leaps all the way up to $87.5 million.

If only it were easy enough to just say one value, which is something we have done in the past, but the reality is that trade value will be influenced by a range of dollar values and WAR projections that you, the reader, ultimately need to choose.

One more, though. Let’s say you wanted to align with the recent prospect valuations from FanGraphs that utilize $9 million per WAR — and since Thor is approaching his prime, let’s say his four-win 2018 season is more of a baseline than the increase we projected above.

That gets us, coincidentally, $66 million in present day trade value:

There’s a give and take, but as you play with the projections a range should make itself clear. For the purposes of the rest of this article, we’ll use that $66 million target, but feel free to be thinking slightly above or slightly below for the baseline of a deal.

What do the Rays have to offer?

Let’s reiterate that the New York Mets do not have to trade Syndergaard. They have him for three more years and whenever he has been on the mound for them, he has been excellent.

The Mets are also currently in talks to add Robinson Cano and closer Edwin Diaz to their roster, so they are not entering a rebuild, and they want to compete in 2019. Their new General Manager, Brodie Van Wagenen, said as much during an interview with the New York Post.

Despite possible industry perception, a trade offer will likely have to blown them away to get the Mets to deal away Syndergaard. He’s the second best pitcher on their roster and has three years of team control. They’re looking for something big.

So what will it take? Reportedly, the Mets are looking for players who will be major contributors to their efforts in 2019 — so big league ready talent, if not players already in the majors.

The positions where the Mets do not need long-term answers are first base (prospect Peter Alonso), short stop (rookie Amed Rosario), and second base (Robinson Cano if the rumored trade happens, Jeff McNeil if not).

The positions where the Mets do need long-term answers is the outfield, where the soon-to-be-traded Jay Bruce creates an opening (as will eventually LF Yoenis Cespedes, who has two years of control remaining), and possibly third base, where Todd Frazier is entering the last year of his contract. And pitching is always accepted.

Here’s how those time frames and values shake out for the Rays top prospects, according to the most recent analysis from FanGraphs using their Top-100 prospects:

Name, Position - 2018 Rank - ETA - Trade Value:

  • Brendan McKay, LHP/1B - No. 14 - 2019 - $54 million
  • Brent Honeywell+, RHP - No. 23 - 2019 - $44 million
  • Jesus Sanchez, RF - No. 47 - 2020 - $30 million
  • Brandon Lowe, 2B/LF - No. 71 - 2018 - $25 million
+ indicates currently recovering from Tommy John

Other players that could contribute in trade value would include players on the 40-man roster who are on the border of prospect eligibility, like RF Austin Meadows (who topped out at No. 6 on Baseball America’s top-100), RHP Jose De Leon+ (No. 23), 3B Christian Arroyo (No. 62), or LHP Anthony Banda+ (No. 66).

In the end, there may not be a strong fit overall unless the Rays are willing to send Austin Meadows and/or Christian Arroyo to the Mets. Each player’s trade value is likely similar to Jesus Sanchez overall, providing $30 million in trade value to get the deal started from either one if they are your centerpiece. It’s not splashy, but it could be palatable for both sides.

Meadows is available through happenstance. While he should be the incumbent for right field, there might be an easy replacement for the 2019 roster in the wings, as Tampa Bay has been linked multiple times to Andrew McCutchen in free agency, and Tampa native could bridge the gap to Jesus Sanchez if the Rays opt for that route.

Arroyo is available because the Rays also have somewhat of a logjam at third base, where 3B Matt Duffy or 2B/3B Daniel Robertson could make the conversation interesting for the Mets infield plans. Duffy has three years of control remaining, and Robertson has five. Both players tallied 2.4 WAR last season, with Robertson trending up through a retooled swing, while both players also have injury risk. Either would easily cover the remaining $30 million in trade value needed, with Robertson’s trade value landing even higher given his two additional years of control remaining.

Fleshing the trade out in full, if the Rays could turn Meadows and one of their three aforementioned third basemen, and a prospect of note into Syndergaard (we’ll conclude that thought below), the perfect storm could be in place for a deal to happen. But with the number of teams likely to be involved it’s hard to say the Rays would be the highest bidder overall.

It’s also hard to say the Rays are interested.

Syndergaard Trade Comparison

Historically these kinds of trades don’t happen. An All-Star caliber starting pitcher who is entering his age-26 season with three years of control remaining is a unicorn. Perhaps you could compare his age to Taijuan Walker, but Thor is a superior arm entering his prime with fewer question marks than Walker ever had.

The Rays have been involved in deals of such starters before, but the players were leaving Tampa Bay and were a bit older: James Shields was dealt before his age-31 season with two years remaining, David Price was dealt during his age-28 season and then had one year remaining, and Chris Archer was traded during his age 29 season, and has three years of control remaining.

Shields landed top-5 prospect Wil Myers, Price landed future top-10 prospect Willy Adames, and Archer landed Meadows alongside two plus pitchers.

Among those three names, Archer is the closest in comparison and value. Entering his age-30 season, Archer projects to a 3.64 ERA, 3.45 FIP, and 18.2% K-BB% with 3.8 WAR in 2019. Meanwhile, Steamer projects 3.6 WAR with a 3.55 ERA, 3.29 FIP, and 18.7% K-BB% for Syndergaard. If you’re looking at just a spreadsheet, it kinda works, but Syndergaards looks a little more valuable.

Archer was traded for Meadows, a former 55-grade prospect with upside already at the major league level, and a 50 FV prospect far off from the majors. That sort of structure is richer than $66 million, but is also closer to the realities of the trade market and probably where we need to go.

In reading this concluding section of the article, however, a little red flag should have popped up for you. We just listed three star pitchers the Rays have moved in recent history a little beyond where Thor currently is in his contract, and it’s difficult to consider the probability of a Syndergaard acquisition along side those names.

Given the team’s history, one more season and the Rays would be the ones putting Thor on the market.

Syndergaard also has a spotty injury history, having missed the majority of 2017 with a right lat strain, and has had recurring injuries in his hand as well. He’s a hard throwing pitcher — among the hardest — but there’s also been some decline on average. Is it a warning bell, or natural results of a pitcher pitching?

But let’s say the Rays really like Thor and are willing to go get him.

What would that look like?

Building a Rays trade for Thor

For those of you just joining us, i.e. the crowd that doesn’t care about analysis and just wants their offseason fake trade fix taken care of, well, here you go.

Rays Trade offer for Syndergaard:

  1. One of OF Austin Meadows or OF Jesus Sanchez
  2. One of INF Daniel Robertson, 3B Matt Duffy, or 3B Christian Arroyo
  3. One 50 FV prospect

While it would be tempting to simply throw Brendan McKay at the Mets and hope that gets you most of the way there, for the reasons outlined above, we would tailor a Rays trade offer to meet the Mets immediate needs, and McKay is too valuable to slot in as the third piece.

Using the Archer trade model as a guide, that means using the $66 million baseline to get pieces 1 and 2, while adding a third lotto ticket to close the gap in upside. You can sort out the rest from there.

So can the Rays make a deal? An offer of Meadows, Robertson, and a prospect like 2B Vidal Brujan should be enough to keep the Mets from hanging up the phone, but this just doesn’t pass the sniff test for an acquisition the Rays would make.

Move along.