Lukewarm Stove: Giants "In Contact" with Swanson, Twins Want Rodon or Correa, Fried and Torres on the Trade Block? Deep Dive on Syndergaard, More

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Lukewarm Stove: Giants “In Contact” with Swanson, Twins Want Rodon or Correa, Fried and Torres on the Trade Block? Deep Dive on Syndergaard, More

Chicago Cubs

Well there’s no point in beating around the bush. Here’s the biggest new rumor since this morning’s Lukewarm Stove *and* the separate Obsessive Free Agent Shortstop Watch.

It was just a matter of time before the Giants and Dansby Swanson were connected. The question is why is this being floated now? Leverage for Swanson to use against the Braves or Cubs? – See guys, I have other options! Leverage for the Giants to use against Carlos Correa? – See, Carlos, we have a backup plan if you don’t sign right now! Or maybe it’s even more simple and straight forward, with Carlos Correa cooling on the Giants and the Giants legitimately moving on.

That last one is probably overly optimistic, but it’s at least plausible. At the end of the day, there are at least three teams (Cubs, Twins, Giants) STRONGLY in the market for just two shortstops (Swanson, Correa). Plus another couple teams loosely in the mix (Red Sox? Dodgers?).

Twins on the Carlos(es)

The Minnesota Twins are in on both Carlos Correa and Carlos Rodon, but they can afford to sign only one of them.

Unfortunately, if they had their choice, it sounds like Correa remains the preferred target.

For what it’s worth, the Giants were also in on Rodon, but perhaps less so now that they’ve signed Sean Manaea and Ross Stripling? The Yankees were reportedly delivering an offer to Rodon as soon as today, but are otherwise considered out on Correa.

Trading Gleyber, Trading Fried

Yesterday, Sean Murphy was traded from the A’s to the Braves, with All-Star William Contreras going from the Braves to the Brewers. We’ve also seen Teoscar Hernandez go to the Mariners. But it sounds like there are more big trades in the works this offseason. Earlier today, we discussed the Astros-Diamondbacks trade discussions over Daulton Varsho and we know that the Blue Jays are interested in moving one of their catchers.

Now, the Yankees are reportedly considering a Gleyber Torres trade (they almost dealt him to the Marlins at the deadline), with the Marlins, Pirates, White Sox, Brewers, Angels, and Tigers listed among the possible suitors. The previous Yankees-Marlins talks centered around Pablo Lopez, but SNY wonders if that shifts to 2021 All-Star Trevor Rogers. Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds is also mentioned (and he too is expected to be traded), but I don’t think the Pirates want an arbitration eligible middle infielder with just two years of control remaining ….

The Cubs get a “long-shot” mention (along with the Dodgers), and it’s not like I’d be against it. But I just don’t see that happening.

Another thing I don’t see happening? A Max Fried trade. But Jim Callis does. Sign me up.

Noah Syndergaard

When I first saw news that Noah Syndergaard’s market was moving, my initial reaction was interest on behalf of the Cubs. But I recall digging into his peripherals a few months ago (on a post that never published) and I didn’t like what I saw.

Since we’re probably never publishing that post, I’ll just dump it here. My optimism was a touch higher back in September. Sigh.

I’m starting this post — asking whether Noah Syndergaard will be a worthy free agent starting pitcher target for the Cubs this offseason — not knowing exactly where I’ll land. I wanted to go through the process of answering that question, myself, all year, so I figured I might as well do it now and write it down.

So let’s start with some of the facts:

(1) The Cubs absolutely need to add multiple, sure-fire, big-league starting pitchers before next season if they hope to contend in 2023 (which I believe they do). I’m not going to go back over the reasoning there (we did it in this Carlos Rodón post), I’m just going to assume you’re with me on that.

(2) Syndergaard, who just turned 30 on Monday, is still a relatively young free-agent who has had some significant success in MLB.

(3) Having been offered and rejecting the qualifying offer from the Mets last offseason, Syndergaard is ineligible for a qualifying offer this winter. That means the Cubs could sign him without forfeiting a draft pick, the associated bonus pool space, or any IFA bonus pool money.

(4) Syndergaard underwent Tommy John surgery in Spring of 2020, but has otherwise been mostly healthy in 2022. He’s made only 20 starts, because while with the Angels, he was often throwing out of a six-man rotation.

In short, the Cubs need starters and Syndergaard is young(ish), healthy, available for only money, and has upside. So superficially, yes, Syndergaard makes some sense for the Cubs to pursue this winter. But how has this season – his first full season post TJS – gone?

Generally, alright.

In terms of bottom line results, Syndergaard has earned a 3.98 ERA, exactly league average, and has thrown at least five innings in all but four starts, with “quality starts” in 8 of his 20 outings. For me, that demonstrates a baseline level of health that you’d need to see post Tommy John to be at all confident in a deal this offseason.

But Syndergaard has been a fundamentally different pitcher this season than the one we remember.

For one, his average fastball velocity, which is used to sit 97-98 MPH, is down to 94.5 MPH this season. That’s not entirely unexpected for a guy returning from surgery, but it might not ever fully return. He’s also dramatically cut down on his four-seam usage (27% for his career, 17% this season) in favor of his sinker, and he’s thrown more changeups and sliders, as well.

Whether it’s directly related or not, the change in velocity and pitch mix seems to have resulted in HUGELY depressed strikeout rate: just 17.6% for the season, after being a ~25% guy for most of his career. Again, you cannot just assume this is all going to bounce back with more time between him and surgery. It might improve, but you have to assume this is just who he is now. And that’s a bit of a red flag.

HOWEVER, there’s some good stuff, too.

Syndergaard’s walk rate is an impressive 5.8% this season, among the top-25 in baseball, and he’s become (remained?) something of a high-quality contact manager.

For the season, batters are managing just an 86.9 MPH average exit velocity off Syndergaard, which ranks 9th best in MLB, just ahead of Dylan Cease, Shane McClanahan, and Justin Steele, while his 34 hard% is also among the top-15 in the sport. On the flip side, he’s allowing a bit too many elevated balls in play, which dings his barrel rate, but it’s a fine overall picture for this half of his game.

So the short version here is his fastball velocity is down and he’s not striking batters out, but his command has been excellent and his contact management and has been well above average. For a 30-year-old starter with a mid-90s fastball and at least a little hope that he can be something greater in the future, there’s enough to like.

But where does this leave us on our initial question?

Unfortunately, not as clear as I would’ve hoped. I think Syndergaard *could be* a good play for the Cubs this offseason, but only if he’s the second, less attractive free agent starter pursuit. You can confidently expect him to be a back-end starter, but any hope of rediscovering his front-half production is a pure gamble. The only caveat there is if the Cubs front office/pitch lab is able to identify something in particular to address (mechanically/the approach/the pitch mix, etc.) to bring that floor back up. And that’s not something we’ll necessarily be able to identify from the outside.

So with some other attractive options out there – both in free agency and trade (and the international free agent market) – I can’t sit here today and say a pursuit of Syndergaard is a no-brainer, even if there is some stuff to like.


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Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami