Shea Bridge Report: Matz, Bauer's Contract, Syndergaard's Book Club

Mets pitching has certainly been in the news lately.

Hello! Today, we cover the recent escapades and hijinx of Mets and formerly-Mets pitchers. Steven Matz goes north, Trevor Bauer will earn more than he’s worth, Syndergaard starts a book club. Wait a minute: Matz goes north, Bauer’s worth, Syndergaard’s book club…we didn’t start the fi-YA!

Matz

On Wednesday night, the Mets traded Steven Matz to the Blue Jays for three prospects. As of Friday morning, that’s the last major move the Mets have made, but it seems to indicate that there’s something else at least tentatively in the works.

The only reason to trade Matz, really, is to open up a roster spot and salary space. Matz is coming off his worst year as an MLB pitcher, so it’s not like the Mets were selling him high before he regressed. The three prospects who came over from Toronto all give off strong “2017 trading deadline” vibes; the kind of pitchers who will probably go up and down between AAA and MLB for a few years, then go pitch in Korea and suddenly start putting up 19-3 records and 2.14 E.R.A.’s. They’re valuable depth pieces, sure, but it’s not the kind of return that would bowl anyone over.

Matz, meanwhile, is a far better pitcher than he looked in 2020. Matz’s career, basically, has had three parts so far:

-The stud rookie with an E.R.A. around 2.20 from mid-2015 to mid-2016. 

-The average Joe with an E.R.A. around 4.00 from mid-2016 to the end of 2019.

-Last season’s complete implosion.

There are two ways to look at Matz’s career so far. The most obvious is that he started high and has been getting worse ever since. But I don’t quite buy that. Matz is streaky and inconsistent, but he’s still got the stuff to be an excellent pitcher, and as always, whether he succeeds will depend on whether he can put that stuff together and sustain it. Can he? We’ll see. The Mets traded him because they no longer have time to wait and find out.

Bauer

There are not-illogical rumors out there that say that trading Matz must mean that the Mets are seriously interested in Trevor Bauer, and perhaps even close to a deal. With that, though, has come a series of arguments against signing Bauer. One prominent one: he’s simply not worth a huge contract. He’s not good enough to be paid that much.

I’ll have a column soon on MetsMerized regarding exactly this argument, but in short, the problem is that sports contracts just don’t work that way. Bauer won’t be paid based only on how good he is: he’ll be paid based on how much teams are willing to pay him. Before the 1999 season, the Mets signed Mike Piazza to what was the largest contract in baseball at the time. From 2003 to 2005, his numbers certainly didn’t merit that kind of deal. But if they wanted the first four years of his contract, the Mets had to pay handsomely for all seven, because if they didn’t, another team would. So monetarily, Piazza’s deal might not have been “worth it” — but for the Mets and Mets fans, it was certainly worth it, because if they hadn’t overpaid for Piazza’s older years, they wouldn’t have had Piazza at all.

Bauer’s case is similar. He’s not the best pitcher in baseball, and he’s only getting older; his numbers alone don’t merit a truly gigantic contract. But he’s the best pitcher on the free agent market, and just had an outstanding season. He’ll likely land a pretty enormous contract. His future statistics might not warrant it — but often, you have to pay for greatness to get really-goodness. Whether you’d like to see Bauer as a Met is up to you, but the fact is that if the Mets don’t give him that gigantic contract, someone else will.

Syndergaard

Noah Syndergaard is starting a book club. This truly is a moment built for Mets fans/English majors like me. I’m still soaking it in. The first book, apparently, will be announced at the beginning of February, in just a few days, and I can’t wait to hear the selection.

The one problem, though, is that I suspect the books will be right in Syndergaard’s wheelhouse. He’ll choose titles like “Building yourself into an athlete” and “How to become excellent through a lifetime of hard work and training,” and when it comes time for book club discussion, he’ll automatically have the upper hand. 

You know what I’d love? A Noah Syndergaard book club where I chose the books. I’d love to read The Great Gatsby with Syndergaard and his assorted Mets friends, and launch into an impassioned speech about the symbolism of the scene with the real books whose pages haven’t been cut yet. The problem, of course, is that as he listens to me giving that speech, Syndergaard will feel exactly like I will as I listen to him give a speech on how to become a great leader by usually being shirtless, lifting thousands of pounds, and eating giant bowls of stewed elk.