Can Noah Syndergaard Turn the Angels into Contenders?
The other Los Angeles baseball team has had starting pitching problems for all of Mike Trout's career. Now they hope a 1-2 Ohtani/Syndergaard punch can save the Angels from obscurity.
When we last left the Mets, the club was looking for someone, anyone to take its general manager position. Perhaps a lack of clarity on that front contributed to this new debacle: yesterday we learned that the Amazins lost their fan fave and terrific-when-healthy starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard to free agency over a paltry $2.6 million even though their owner is worth billions.
According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the Mets made Syndergaard a one-year qualifying offer of $18.4 million back on November 7. Then the club went radio silent during the 10 days the star pitcher had to decide whether to take that money or leave it—a strong indication that they were not interested in negotiating a longer or more creative deal. Even though Syndergaard was said to have wanted to stay in New York, after the Angels offered him $21 million he was reportedly so frustrated that the Mets ghosted him that he didn’t even give the club a chance to match the Angels offer.
While it’s not surprising New York botched keeping the popular Syndergaard in orange and blue for a few extra mil, I did not expect the Angels would be the club to pry him away. The other Los Angeles (of Anaheim) team has been so bad for so long that it’s honestly shocking when they pull off moves like this that could dramatically help their odds of making the playoffs for the first time since 2014—the only time in Mike Trout’s 11-year career that they made the postseason. (They got swept).
Sometimes people ask me why I don’t write about the Angels like I write about the Dodgers even though I actually grew up a few miles closer to the Big A than Chavez Ravine and went to a ton of games there as a kid. I asked myself the same question this season when Shohei Ohtani went all Babe Ruth and became a global superstar. Part of why I write about the Dodgers so often is because I was born into the fandom. But would I spend so much time watching and dissecting and obsessing over the Dodgers if they hadn’t been World Series contenders for most of my adult life? Doubtful! I really want the Angels to be relevant so I can mix it up more in this newsletter with another local team. This is why I’m so happy the Angels nabbed Syndergaard. If he’s healthy he makes the team (finally!) an interesting one to cover.
Syndergaard’s career ERA is a tidy 3.32, which is perennial all-star territory. His career FIP is 2.93, an elite number which means he’s one of the best in the world at what he does. By comparison, last season Angels starting pitchers registered a 4.78 ERA, which was 22nd in all of MLB. During the shortened 2020 season, Angels’ starters were even worse, posting a 5.52 ERA (29th out of 30 teams).
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The club has badly needed starting pitching for a decade. Until Ohtani’s emergence as an ace this season, Anaheim arguably didn’t have a true number one starter since Jered Weaver was in his prime ten years ago. But rather than go after big name starting pitching, during that time span the club curiously awarded its largest free agent contracts to hitters Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and Anthony Rendon.
If this were the NBA, the Angels wouldn’t need more than Trout and Ohtani to be perennial title contenders. But Anaheim has proven you can have probably the two best baseball players in MLB and still miss the postseason. If the Angels are going to challenge Houston and Oakland and the upstart Mariners in the AL West, that quest will have to start with pitching. As second-year GM Perry Minasian tries to build a winning club around Trout and Ohtani as soon as possible, there’s another reason why landing Syndergaard now is so clutch: it’s unusual to get a pitcher with such high upside on such a short contract. Because Syndergaard missed most of the last two seasons with injuries, any team that wanted him found themselves with the rare chance to snag him on a one-year deal as he tries to re-establish his worth and durability so he can sign a monster contract next offseason.
The San Francisco Giants tried the diminished-pitcher-on-a-one-year deal gambit when they brought in Kevin Gausman, Anthony deSclafani, and Alex Wood last offseason. All three flourished, and the club won a franchise record 107 games. None of those three pitchers have Syndergaard’s potential. If Syndergaard and Ohtani can both stay healthy, it’s easy to see the club taking those two co-aces into a three-game series against anyone—including the Dodgers—and winning it.
Another reason I love Syndergaard for the Angels? He brings a bit of an edge and personality the team badly needs. Trout is a superhero on the field but a bit robotic with the media and public off of it (although very nice!). Rendon is similar. Syndergaard is not boring. He uses his Twitter feed to regularly roast sportswriters, fans, haters, opposing players, and himself, and he’s entertaining as hell. If the Angels go spiraling into some godawful losing streak next summer, I could see Syndergaard publicly sounding off about the depths of the team’s suck and inspiring them out of it.
Minasian will need to add more pieces to the Angels roster to turn the club into title contenders. Earlier today, closer Raisel Iglesias rejected the club’s qualifying offer, and they’re going to need more starting pitching before next season begins. But yesterday Anaheim took a huge step toward becoming playoff contenders again. And Trout and Ohtani playing in October together would be great for anyone who loves this sport.