Tuesday night, the Angels made the signing of Noah Syndergaard for one year and $21 million official, following a successful physical during the day.
Representing the first of multiple expected moves to improve a bottom-10 pitching staff each of the last three seasons, the signing of Syndergaard provides a much needed front-line starter for the Angels pitching staff. It also represents the largest single-season salary for a pitcher in Angels franchise history, surpassing Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson who both made $20 million in 2016, the final years of lengthier contracts.
Syndergaard, 29, had received a qualifying offer of $18.4 million from the New York Mets, which according to an article from Joel Sherman of the New York Post came with “radio silence” from New York. On Friday night, Angels general manager, Perry Minasian, flew cross-country to New York for an in-person dinner with Syndergaard where the two discussed the club’s direction and how Syndergaard could help them in that direction while also addressing a game plan for his usage, health, and improvement in Anaheim.
During his video conference call with the media, Minasian addressed that Syndergaard was someone the club had interest in from the beginning of the off-season and that their interest was not solitary with multiple clubs expressing interest.
“It’s somewhat flattering,” Minasian said. “The fact that he picked us. It’s a partnership – we’re betting on him and he’s betting on us.”
The partnership has already moved to a personal stature, as less than 24 hours after the official signing, Minasian and Syndergaard were texting about potential improvements. The video text Minasian received was of Synderaard doing a drill during a workout, and was asking for assistance.
“We’re betting on the person,” Minasian continued. “This is a person that is totally committed to his craft.”
That bet though does some with exterior criticism, with some in the industry calling it “desperation” for pitching. Minasian himself noted that it is no secret that the Angels not only need pitching to be competitive in 2022 and beyond, but also have a focus on pitching during this free agent market.
Syndergaard is coming off Tommy John surgery in March of 2020, which has limited him to facing eight batters in two innings the span of two seasons. Prior to the surgery, Syndergaard was one of the top pitchers in baseball, posting a 2.93 ERA and 132 ERA+ from 2015-2018. In 2019, Syndergaard had an unorthodox season to the ones prior, posting a 4.28 ERA – still very close to league-average – while leading the Majors in earned runs allowed.
With an average four-seam fastball velocity of 98.1 MPH, and average sinker velocity of 97.9 from 2015-19, Syndergaard was over two miles-per-hour below that average velocity in his incredibly small-sample sized workload of 2021. This, along with the many repercussions of returning from Tommy John surgery, have led to an abundance of questions and criticism about how Syndergaard will return to his previous success after the surgery. One of those criticisms, noted in an article by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic is the potential innings cap (Minasian noted on Wednesday he does not believe in innings limits), and a remark from a rival executive who called the signing, “(expletive) ridiculous.”
“There is risk, we’re well aware of that,” Minasian stated on Wednesday. “We’ve done, as far as man hours, the amount of work we’ve done on this individual – I don’t know if I’ve ever done more on an individual player. We feel good about where he’s at in his rehab. The physical went really well. I think it’s a good gamble to take.”
The contract could be seen as a bounce back, or rebound contract for Syndergaard, that helps re-establish him as a large scale target and acquisition for teams in the 2022-23 winter where he will be a 30-year-old free agent.
While speaking to the media during GM meetings last week, Minasian noted a need for “aggression” in the pitching staff. Syndergaard provides that and some, but is not the only piece needed when it comes to the Angels necessity.
“It’s huge upside,” Minasian stated. “I think when he’s right he’s one of the better pitchers in the game. I think he’s one of those guys that you want to give him the ball in big spots. His postseason history will tell you that. On top of that, the aggressiveness he pitches with – the Moxy – whatever you wanna call it, I think compliments our rotation well.”
With the signing on Syndergaard, the Angels rotation now looks as such: Shohei Ohtani, Syndergaard, Patrick Sandoval, question mark, question mark, question mark.
Young arms such as Jaime Barria and Jose Suarez do give promise for the final spots in the Angels rotation, but with the deployment of what could be called a “tryout basis” in September of 2021, the Angels have a clear need for mid-and-front rotation help. Top prospect, Reid Detmers, could be an option, as could Griffin Canning, though for the Angels to compete in their window of the prime years of Ohtani, Mike Trout, and Anthony Rendon, more is likely to be needed for the upcoming campaign.
Along with the rotation help, the Angels are looking to address need for relief arms. The relief core is filled with pitchers who have under one year of service time. Veteran relievers and overall depth will need to be addressed over the winter, as well as a closer. Closer, Raisel Iglesias, turned down the Angels qualifying offer on Wednesday, which came with little shock.
“Not surprised,” Minasian said with a small grin. “Raisel has earned the right to explore the free agent market… Nothing has changed. We’re still in contact with his representation. It’s somebody we’d obviously love to have back. I think he really enjoyed his time here. We enjoyed having him and I’m optimistic we can work something out.”
The signing of Syndergaard, however, is a sign that the Angels do expect to compete in 2022. It is not an educated guess that this will not be the final pitching acquisition the Angels make during the winter.
With Ohtani and Syndergaard, the Angels now know that one/third of their rotation will give them competitive outings every few days. They know that, if healthy and making all scheduled starts which is not a guarantee, that they will be able to compete with anyone on any day for 54 of their 162 games. That alone is not enough though to create a World Series caliber pitching staff.
With the addition of Syndergaard, the Angels payroll for 2022 – with the inclusion of estimated arbitration salaries for Phil Gosselin, Max Stassi, and Mike Mayers – sits at just over $132 million. That does not include any incentives, minimum salaries, or open salary (industry consensus places this around $10-15 million) for in-season acquisitions.
With a payroll simmering around $180 million in 2021, that would give the Angels around $40-50 million remaining to address the other holes in their pitching staff, and the not-as-obvious hole at shortstop. The team has been attached or noted to most free agent starting pitchers, not limited to; Max Scherzer, Kevin Gausman, Robbie Ray, Marcus Stroman, Anthony DeSclafini, Jon Gray, and the already signed Eduardo Rodriguez – all of which would put the Angels close to their prior payroll with one signing.
This may lead to alternative modes of improving the club, via trades and minor league acquisitions. Most notably, the Oakland Athletics and Miami Marlins have been reported on potentially moving some of their young starting pitchers. The cost of those pitchers likely would come with a return of a top prospect or rookie of high future value, such as Jo Adell, Brandon Marsh, or Jordyn Adams.
During the GM meetings, Minasian would not comment on the status of whether the Angels payroll would increase or decrease in 2022, but did open up about the financial status of the club during his Wednesday video call.
“One thing that’s been proven over the course of the time they’ve owned this team is the Moreno family is willing to invest in this club,” said Minasian. “They’re willing to make the necessary financial commitments to get us where we want to go… It’s comforting knowing that I have an ownership between Arte and Carol – when there’s something I feel like can help the club I can have that conversation. So, I wouldn’t rule anything out.”
Included in the Syndergaard signing is the loss of their second highest draft pick due to signing a player who had a qualifying offer attached. That pick could alter based on the decision of Iglesias and his qualifying offer, and whether he signs elsewhere. If Iglesias does remain with the Angels that selection would be around pick 50-60 based on the amount of competitive balance selections which are currently unknown. More important than the pick itself is the loss of the bonus slot attached to the selection, which based on 2021, could register anywhere from $1.1 to $1.5 million. The Angels will also lose $500,000 from their international bonus pool for a total of upwards to $2 million in incoming amateur acquisitions.
The Angels winter is not concluded, and the signing of Syndergaard does not answer all of the questions remaining. Minasian noted that the signing was “not about setting tones” but it does give merit to progression towards a higher competitive level of Angels baseball in 2022.
Syndergaard will meet with the media on Friday morning, but had parting words for his former organization and the supporters via a social media post titled, “Thank You New York”:
“Dear Mets fan. This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. New York has been my home for the last six years, and through both the good times and bad my love for you all in this place never wavered. This rehab and free agency process was both eye-opening and humbling. I was both flattered by all the outside interest, yet couldn’t process what it would mean or how hard it would be to leave New York City. But after countless days of thought, I feel signing with the Angels is the best fit for me at this point in my career. I sincerely want to thank the fans for their unbelievable support. I wish we could have given you all even more to cheer about. Playing in New York has been the best experience of my life. The kid from a small town in Texas – this place changed me forever. I’ll never forget it and I thank you all for it. I also want to thank the Mets organization for trading for me and blessing me with this opportunity. To my teammates, coaches, support staff, and all others I forgot to mention here – New York was my home for a long time and I’ll always appreciate how this Texan was welcome there. I’ll always be pulling for the Mets, until I’m playing against you.”
A team with an already theological attachment to the mascot name now brings in another theological name, as Syndergaard has notably been nicknamed, “Thor,” throughout the course of his career. In an upside gamble, the Angels may be hoping that Thor can bring them to the baseball version of Valhalla, and a World Series title.