The Padres still have plenty of question marks in the rotation as Spring Training begins, and such free agent starters as Hyun Jin Ryu, Michael Lorenzen, and Eric Lauer have all reportedly been on the team’s radar. Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune adds another veteran arm to that list, as the Padres have also shown interest in Noah Syndergaard.
Reports indicated back in November that several teams had already checked in on Syndergaard, though the Pirates and now the Padres are the only clubs publicly linked to the righty’s market. It is fair to suggest that Syndergaard may be viewed as a fallback option for many of these potential suitors, who prioritized more clearcut rotation upgrades before turning to more speculative bounce-back candidates like Syndergaard.
The 31-year-old threw only 88 2/3 innings over 18 starts with the Dodgers and Guardians last year, as blister problems sent him to the injured list for about seven weeks and Syndergaard’s season ended prematurely when Cleveland released him at the end of August. An excellent 4.9% walk rate was just about the only highlight of Syndergaard’s 2023 campaign, as he posted a 6.50 ERA and a tiny 14.3% strikeout rate while allowing a lot of hard contact and averaging only 92.2mph of velocity on his fastball.
It was a disappointing step back for the former Mets ace, who was once one of the National League’s top pitchers before injuries took a toll on his career. A Tommy John surgery cost Syndergaard virtually all of the 2020-21 seasons, though he had at least decent numbers (3.94 ERA, 5.5% walk rate) over 134 2/3 frames with the Angels and Phillies in 2022. However, the red flags were already in present in drops in strikeouts, velocity, and barrel rate, so Syndergaard ended signing a one-year, $13MM deal with the Dodgers last winter.
Acquiring Syndergaard wouldn’t exactly guarantee more stability for the Padres’ collection of arms, given this recent track record. Expecting a return to his Cy Young candidate form is looking increasingly far-fetched, yet given the Friars’ pitching needs and budgetary limitations, Syndergaard might be the kind of relatively inexpensive veteran who could be a fit at the back end of the rotation.
Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove, and Michael King line up as the top three in the rotation, though King has a limited track record as a starting pitcher. Projected fourth/fifth starter candidates Pedro Avila, Jhony Brito, and Randy Vasquez have limited track records in the big leagues altogether — Avila has thrown only 63 2/3 frames across four MLB seasons, and Brito (90 1/3 IP) and Vazquez (37 2/3 IP) only made their MLB debuts with the Yankees last season. As Acee notes, simply covering innings is going to be a challenge for San Diego even if everyone stays healthy, so signing Syndergaard or a comparable veteran might be almost a necessity to help lessen the workload for the more inexperienced starters.