Ten days ago, after what turned out to be his final start for the Los Angeles Angels, Noah Syndergaard told reporters that he’s learning to pitch without the upper-90s velocity that once was his signature. But he also believes his blazing fastball will come back as Tommy John surgery gets more distant in his rearview mirror.
maybe But the Phillies don’t really care.
In trading for Syndergaard minutes before Tuesday’s 6 pm deadline, the Phillies seized an opportunity to add a veteran starter on an expiring contract to occupy the injured Zach Eflin’s spot in the rotation. That’s all. If Syndergaard has a higher octane in the tank, terrific. If not, they think his unleaded gas still represents a short-term upgrade over their in-house depth.
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“We acquired him with the idea that this is who he is right now,” president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. “We have him for two months of this year. It’s a situation where we’re looking at him being this guy with the real good sinker and he’s got good control at this point and being more of the pitcher than when he was throwing 100 mph, being able to blow that ball by people. We didn’t acquire him with that in mind.”
So, although it qualifies as a big deal that Syndergaard will make his Phillies debut Thursday night — or is it Thorsday? — the more significant deadline development was that they traded for him, rental reliever David Robertson, and even young center fielder Brandon Marsh without giving up their three untouchable pitching prospects.
And that brings us to something Dombrowski said last week, a comment that didn’t get as much attention as it should have because it was made eight days before the trade deadline. Andrew Painter, Mick Abel, and Griff McGarry weren’t merely off-limits in trade talks. It seems the Phillies believe any or all of the Big Three could arrive in the big leagues as soon as the next season.
“The thing I’ve found about talented young starting pitchers — and you can check back where I’ve been — sometimes they get to the big leagues very fast,” Dombrowski said. “I’m not saying this year. But there are some people that could be competing for spots next year that are youngsters. I’ve had no problem pitching guys who are 20 years old and having a lot of success and putting them in the big leagues. And they’re that good that some of those guys could be pitching here.”
In 2009, when Dombrowski ran the Detroit Tigers’ baseball operations, Rick Porcello made his major league debut at age 20 after only one season in A-ball. Six years before that, Jeremy Bonderman broke into the Tigers’ rotation after one A-ball season.
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It isn’t an entirely comparable scenario because the Tigers were not yet a playoff contender when they pushed Bonderman and Porcello. But it’s also hard to ignore that Abel turns 21 next month and has allowed less than three runs in seven of his last 10 starts for high-A Jersey Shore. Painter, who won’t be 20 until next April, has a 1.47 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 61⅓ innings, including a 1.59 mark in six starts since getting called up to Jersey Shore in June.
McGarry still figures to be the fastest riser. A fifth-round pick last year from the University of Virginia, he’s 23 and recently got moved up to double-A Reading. In three starts, he has a 2.92 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 12⅓ innings. Control has always been an issue. He has walked eight of 50 batters for Reading and has a 13% walk rate overall this season.
“It’s a fun situation to be in,” Dombrowski said. “Once they get to double A, I’ve never had a problem jumping [a player from] double A to the big leagues. I don’t want to just think short term and boom. But they’ll be going to spring training with us next year. Some of those guys are really good.”
Dombrowski arrived in Philadelphia with a reputation for strip-mining a farm system to win quickly at the major league level. Like most reputations, it was inaccurate. He doesn’t hoard top prospects, like many of his younger counterparts across the league, but he makes decisions on which to move based on confident self-scouting and a holistic view of the organization.
To wit: Catching prospect Logan O’Hoppe was blocked with the Phillies by JT Realmuto. The idea, then, was to use O’Hoppe as the centerpiece in a deal for a starting pitcher with multiple years of control. But other teams had deeper farm systems and were willing to give up more of it. The Twins, for instance, dealt three of their top 10 prospects to Cincinnati for right-hander Tyler Mahle.
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The Phillies pivoted to cashing in O’Hoppe for a young center fielder, targeting the Angels’ Brandon Marsh, Arizona’s Alek Thomas, Houston’s Jose Siri, and others. They wound up with Marsh, an elite defensive outfielder with big strikeout totals but a swing that they believe hitting coach Kevin Long can help fix.
Then, by picking up the remaining money on Syndergaard’s contract, roughly $7.8 million, the Phillies reduced the return to former No. 1 overall pick Mickey Moniak and single-A outfielder Jadiel Sanchez.
“I haven’t seen [Syndergaard] pitch recently, but it’s still a guy that, you see the name, and he’s had success,” Kyle Schwarber said. “And he knows how to pitch in this division. This division’s not easy.”
For two months, the Phillies will take what they can get from the veteran pitcher they acquired. For years, perhaps as early as next year, they expect far more from the three young ones they kept.
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