By Jason Keidel
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Like the Jets, the Mets aren’t big on optics.
Surely you know someone who was born into a Jets/Mets family. The Queens connection is obvious, sharing Shea Stadium, and the myriad memories from the halcyon years of the late 1960s and early ’70s.
Is it a coincidence that the Jets and Mets, now 35 years removed as roommates, still trip over themselves? And seem forever tethered to the role of younger brother to their more adult siblings, the Yankees and Giants?
We can’t answer that. But just as the Jets bungle drafts, contracts and coaches, the Mets also have some head-scratchers. Especially now, considering the Mets have a momentary hold over the hearts of New York, went to the World Series just 17 months ago, reached the playoffs again last year, and should, for at least one more year, bogart the bold ink from the Yankees.
So we have Noah Syndergaard, whom we figured in a few years would haggle with the Mets over a nine-figure contract. We just didn’t figure they would haggle over nine grand this year.
Minutiae? Nuance? Negligible? Maybe.
Syndergaard wanted to be paid $614,125 this season. Yet the Mets would only offer $605,000. The former is the number given to Matt Harvey when he toiled in pre-arbitration purgatory. Syndergaard is stronger, better and way more likable. The hulking righty is the kind of guy you make the ace and face of your franchise. Not only is Syndergaard blessed with comic-book contours and commensurate strength, he’s just a cool guy. Unlike Harvey, who basked in the “Dark Knight” handle and wrapped himself in the local mythology, Syndergaard is surprisingly and refreshingly humble and self-effacing.
Jacob deGrom, fresh of a sublime 2015 season, which included NL Rookie of the Year, was in an identical situation last year, and the Mets gave him $607,000. So general manager Sandy Alderson can’t even bridge the two-grand gap between Syndergaard and deGrom? Time served can’t be the issue, as deGrom had one year and 139 days in the big leagues, while Syndergaard has one year and 149 days.
Alderson toed the company line, which is where he lives. No one is more fluent in platitudes or corporate double-talk than the Mets’ GM, who has to have one of the more colorful resumes of any baseball man. A hybrid of Harvard and the Marine Corps, Alderson channels his inner lawyer when he talks about process and precedents and standards.
Alderson can quote the manual all he wants. This is just silly. If we’re talking about prudence, isn’t it more prudent to give your 24-year-old stud the nine grand? Nine thousand dollars could drop out of owner Jeff Wilpon’s pocket, and he wouldn’t pick it up.
It’s fitting that the Nordic, physical freak has a comic-book handle. Indeed, Syndergaard’s fastball mimic’s Thor’s hammer. Out of all starting pitchers who qualified for the ERA title last season, Thor has the hardest average fastball, at 97.9 mph. Even his sinker is a sledgehammer. Major League Baseball clocked it at 101.3 mph last April. As of April 19, 2016, there had been 22 pitches thrown at least 100 mph; Syndergaard threw 15 of them. According to CBSSports.com, only six pitchers threw more than 12 pitches clocked at triple-digits. Syndergaard threw 12 in the first two innings of his April 18 start.
This is the guy you refused nine grand.
Syndergaard is impossibly cool, as well. He owns the rare Twitter account worth following. Not for narcissistic, groin-grabbing, shirtless pics. But for humor, for references to his surrogate father, Odin, for tweaking Mr. Met by implying he’s dating Mrs. Met. For a future cameo on “Game of Thrones.” For the inherent levity that breaks up the machismo, the testosterone-drenched locker room, where even the worst player was an Alpha Male in the minors.
Even in the face of this slight but silly disrespect, Syndergaard has strolled the high road, where he lives. Thor says he doesn’t let this mess with him, won’t let it affect future negotiations and is only focused on the 2017 season. But it’s ironic that the moment Syndergaard refused to pitch in the World Baseball Classic because he owes the Mets every bullet in his blessed right arm, the Mets short-changed him, bouncing this PR pitch well before home plate.
Sure, you’ll remind us that Syndergaard won’t care about any of this the moment the Mets crowbar open their wallet and make him a $100 million-plus offer. But what if it’s close? What if the Dodgers or Nationals or, heaven forbid, the Bronx Bombers offer Thor a little more? Indeed, the Mets could even learn from the Yanks, who just ostracized their stud reliever, Dellin Betances, during a recent arbitrary hearing.
USA Today has the Mets’ rotation ranked fourth in MLB. In fact, there was a simple scenario in which the Mets starting staff would be the best in baseball this year — stay healthy. And the best way to keep the Mets healthy is to keep Thor happy.
Please follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel