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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Noah Syndergaard

Could Matt Blake help Thor lift the hammer once again?

Cleveland Guardians v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images

The Yankees showed interest in Noah Syndergaard this week, officially putting him on the radar as the offseason progresses into its final stage. A surprising amount of free agents are still on the board, so the time for bolstering rosters is still in full swing.

After signing a one-year deal with the Angels for slightly more than the qualifying offer the Mets gave him, 2022 treated him semi-well, but 2023 was a disaster with two different teams. This week, Syndergaard threw a bullpen session with several teams in attendance, including the Yankees. Four teams have tried to fix him over the past two years, and he really improved with the Phillies in 2022, but stints with the Dodgers and Guardians didn’t go as well.

Fans may see the name and immediately recoil, and for good reason. Let’s get into why that’s the case — in short, he hasn’t been effective in a while. If you’ve watched him over the past few seasons, he couldn’t miss many bats and at points looked completely cooked working with a low-90s heater. It’s one of the most dramatic velo drops in recent memory — at the beginning of his career, he found himself in the 98th percentile in fastball velocity. In 2023, he dropped all the way to the 22nd percentile. So if he was truly running up the gun to mid-90s, it could be a game changer. His 2019 Tommy John surgery provides a clear dividing line between his former status as an ace and his current struggles.

Last season, he signed a one-year, $13 million dollar contract with the Dodgers. He posted an awful 5.6 strikeouts per nine innings in 2023, and an overall strikeout rate of 14.3 percent. Even in his prime he wasn’t necessarily a strikeout machine, but for a reference point, Zack Greinke struck out 6.1 per nine in 2023. The nadir came when the Guardians told him to pack his bags, releasing the embattled righty at the end of August. An extra-long offseason provides time to reflect, adjust training methods, and refine your repertoire. Honestly, the velocity could be the deciding factor, and if Syndergaard can get to 93-95, it could be a game changer. Bad news for suitors though, as it also could drive up his price.

His last decent stretch wasn’t all that long ago. In 15 starts with the Angels in 2022, Syndergaard had a 3.83 ERA and a 105 ERA+ relying on sequencing his sinker and breaking ball to compensate for the reduced velocity. After they flipped him to the Phillies, he showed even more promise.

A quick frolic through Syndergaard’s 2023 Statcast page is pretty ugly. The indicators of ineffectiveness are everywhere, but the non-competitive whiff and barrel rates are emblematic of his issues as a whole. But hey, at least he throws strikes.

His four-seamer showed a smidge of potential as a secondary pitch in his rough 2023, as did his changeup, the lifeline of many diminished pitchers. A strategy of sequencing those could be his next move, and it could work well. With that being said, the Yankees have shown an affinity for pushing sinker-primary guys to throw the pitch more. Whatever the course of action, and no matter how bad 2023 was, there’s still real, accessible potential, if you squint a little. He’s still just 31 years old, which could easily still be prime years for a pitcher.

The starting pitching market is wonky this offseason, and a few reclamation projects like Lucas Giolito have scored pretty decent multi-year contracts. A one-year deal is the most likely outcome for Syndergaard, probably somewhere near $8 million to $10 million. We shouldn’t underestimate the Yankees’ player development on the pitching side, though. If Matt Blake feels he can tackle the project, it might be wise to stash Syndergaard in a depth role and possibly try him as a swingman.