The Mets must decide by Sunday at 5 p.m. ET whether to extend Syndergaard a one-year, $18.4 million qualifying offer. If they do, and he accepts, they will be committed to a significant contract for a pitcher who has delivered two innings in the last two seasons. If they don’t, Syndergaard will become a free agent with no guarantee of returning at all.
Traditionally, players who receive the qualifying offer -- a one-year contract at the average salary of the league’s top 25 highest-paid players -- reject it. Of the dozens of players who have received a qualifying offer since the rule was created in 2012, only 10 have accepted -- most recently, Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman last offseason.
This year, the Mets figure to extend qualifying offers to two players: outfielder Michael Conforto and Syndergaard. Conforto represents the classic case of a top-tier free agent who will reject the offer in search of a multiyear deal on the open market. If Conforto ultimately signs elsewhere, the Mets would receive a compensatory Draft pick. That is the incentive for teams to extend qualifying offers.
Things become trickier when there’s a chance a player might accept. Syndergaard is just that sort of player -- a hard-throwing pitcher who needed 18 months to make it back from Tommy John surgery, and thus has barely pitched since 2019. When healthy, Syndergaard has been a force, producing a 3.31 ERA with 775 strikeouts in 716 innings from 2015-19.
But Syndergaard is also a significant risk considering his extended absence from the mound. When he returned in late September, Syndergaard did not throw any breaking balls in an attempt to keep his elbow healthy. He sat in the low 90s with his signature fastball and topped out at 96 mph -- still clearly impressive, but several ticks shy of what he regularly achieved before surgery.
As such, Syndergaard has incentive to accept a lucrative one-year deal, try to rebuild his value in 2022, then enter free agency from a better position next winter. If the Mets extend him a qualifying offer, Syndergaard is a good bet to take it. It’s a similar blueprint to what Stroman did after last season, accepting a qualifying offer and delivering a strong season after electing not to play in 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns. Stroman is now likely to receive more money on the open market than he did a year ago.
Publicly, Syndergaard has not masked his desire to return, saying in September that he was “very confident that we’ll reach an agreement and that I’ll be pitching here next year.”
“I’d love nothing more than that,” Syndergaard added. “New York has a special place in my heart and always will.”
From the Mets’ perspective, team president Sandy Alderson has traditionally opined that one-year contracts are never bad deals, because they cannot wreck a team’s long-term finances. The Mets are also in somewhat desperate need of rotation help, with questions surrounding every one of their incumbent starters -- Jacob deGrom, Carlos Carrasco, Taijuan Walker, David Peterson and Tylor Megill. Losing Syndergaard to free agency would simply require the club to find even more help on the market than it otherwise would seek.
Then there is the matter of Syndergaard’s status within the organization, as a player who has been around since 2012 and who was the winning pitcher in the only World Series game the Mets have won in the last 20 years.
“What I do appreciate is players who have a real passion for New York,” Alderson said in September. “That’s not just because they can be more successful in New York. … I’m happy Noah wants to be in New York, and that’s a big step in that direction.”
If the Mets do extend Syndergaard a qualifying offer, he will have until Nov. 17 at 5 p.m. ET to accept. During that time, he and the Mets can try to hammer out alternative deals, such as a two-year contract with a lower average annual value, though it’s unclear how much interest either side would have in that.
Conforto and Syndergaard are the only Mets players with a chance to receive qualifying offers. Two others who would have made sense are ineligible: Stroman, because he received one last year, and infielder Javier Báez, because he was traded midseason.