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Perrotto: Pirates Adding Noah Syndergaard a Good Idea — Five Years Ago

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The Pittsburgh Pirates like reclamation projects, which doesn’t distinguish them from many other low-budget franchises.

So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Pirates had a scout in attendance when free agent right-hander Noah Syndergaard threw a bullpen session in a showcase earlier this week. If the Pirates could fix the 31-year-old, he would prove to be a cost-effective pickup.

However, Syndergaard will need a lot of fixing by whatever team winds up signing him. He hasn’t had an above-average season since 2018 when he was 13-4 with a 3.03 ERA in 25 starts for the New York Mets.

Syndergaard’s ERA jumped by 1.25 points the following season when he injured his elbow and required Tommy John reconstructive surgery. Syndergaard missed the entire pandemic-shortened 2020 season and then was limited to two one-inning relief appearances for the Mets late in 2021.

The 2022 season was decent as Syndergaard made 24 starts combined with the Los Angeles Angels and Philadelphia Phillies. He had a 10-10 record and a 3.94 ERA.

However, 2023 was a disaster for the long-haired pitcher nicknamed “Thor.” Syndergaard provided one of my more memorable personal moments last year and it was painful to be a part of.

The Pirates rocked Syndergaard for seven runs in four innings on April 25 at PNC Park, though the Los Angeles Dodgers were able to overcome the awful start and win 8-7.

As Syndergaard faced a group of reporters following the game, he looked bewildered and shaken. It was the opposite of the first time I interviewed Syndergaard in 2015 when he was a confident rookie helping lead the Mets to the World Series.

Simply put, he looked like a guy who had completely lost his confidence.

And he never got that confidence back. He eventually landed with the Guardians and finished the season with a 2-6 combined record for the Dodgers and Cleveland with a 6.50 ERA in 18 starts.

The Guardians released Syndergaard in late August despite being desperate for starting pitching in their failed bid to repeat as American League Central champions. No other team picked him up.

Perhaps the most alarming part of Syndergaard’s season was his fastball averaging 92.2 mph. By comparison, he averaged 98.7 and 98.6 in 2017 and 2018 in the two seasons before he was injured.

Alarming, too, was the Dodgers and Guardians not being able to get anything from Syndergaard despite being two of the best organizations in the game regarding developing pitchers at both the major-league and minor-league levels.

Developing pitching has not been the Pirates’ strong suit since Ben Cherington took over as the general manager following the 2019 season. The limited success the organization has had is mainly through the revitalization of veteran left-handers Tyler Anderson and Jose Quintana, though PNC Park being tough on right-handed hitters also greatly helped.

Syndergaard, of course, is a righty.

Sadly, not all pitchers come back strong from Tommy John surgery despite the continual advancements in sports medicine. Syndergaard is in a small group who haven’t regained the magic.

The only way the Pirates can consider signing Syndergaard is if he will agree to a low-risk contract, preferably a minor-league deal and certainly nowhere close to his $13-million salary of last season.

Even if Syndergaard would pitch for free, it’s hard to imagine things working out well.

 

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