Jack McCaffery on the Philadelphia Phillies’ spending on Noah Syndergaard
PHILADELPHIA – By the time Dave Dombrowski made another spending request to John Middleton, the Phillies were too committed not to put another $7.38 million in the bank.
Still paying points for Odubel Herrera’s $27 million contract and chewing up what’s left of a $24 million investment in Scott Kingery among other big ideas from Matt Klentak, who is already under max contract to fund Bryce Harper, Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber , and proudly taxed on luxury, At that moment Middleton could only ask one question.
Who is worth nearly eight M’s in less than half a season?
How about one of the most talented pitchers of his generation, a former baseball coordinator legend, a righty with World Series experience and a nickname that suggests superpowers?
How about Noah Syndergaard, his sinker and gray hair always magnificently lush, a former All-Star with World Series experience, his Tommy John arm returning to usefulness at age 30?
How about… Thor?
“If we can make the playoffs…” Dombrowski began at the time, risking a laugh given the way the Phillies had played most of the season.
Yes… go on…
“We can make a good pitch as well as anyone else. I think our bullpen is deep. And I think our starting lineup, with Zach Wheeler and Aaron Nola at the top, and then Ranger Suarez, Syndergaard and Kyle Gibson, we can play with anybody.”
And that’s exactly how Dombrowski saw it on Aug. 2, when any talk of the Phillies, the playoffs and — enough of that — the World Series wasn’t widely accepted, even as his team grabbed the No. 3 wild-card spot.
But Dombrowski saw it coming, and on Monday he was once again exposed as something of a baseball clairvoyant. Although Syndergaard’s third start was derailed when the game was delayed by early rain, Rob Thomson soon after did his best to come up with a reasonable November pitching rotation. That he somehow managed to lead a National League Championship team to three World Series victories with a starting lineup of two and a half pitchers was his most impressive accomplishment since taking over for Joe Girardi. But somehow Dombrowski gave him just enough gas to last another five days with the fuel gauge flashing.
According to his updated plan, Suarez was scheduled to start Tuesday in the postponed Game 3. Nola will start Game 4 after four days of rest. And for Thursday’s fifth game, Thomson would use Syndergaard and Gibson in some order. That would free Wheeler for a possible Game 6 in Houston, and Suarez would be available for Game 7.
The rain and postponed weekend not only allowed the Phillies to avoid a bullpen game and give Wheeler extra rest, but also gave the manager enough options to complete the Phillies’ improbable history.
“We can empty the bullpen, so to speak,” Thomson said. “Then we can give everyone a day off. Everyone should be able to move on to the next step.”
In other words, Dombrowski – with Middleton proving again that he’s not a potted plant in the corner of the room – gave Thomson enough smart starters to get from here to there, despite only Wheeler and Nola providing championship reliability and Suarez being available to perform well at least in the mid game. And it wouldn’t have happened if the Phillies hadn’t been willing to absorb the final 33.3 percent of Syndergaard’s one-year, $21 million contract with the Angels.
While Syndergaard was just 5-8 with a 3.83 ERA in 15 starts with Los Angeles, the Phillies didn’t need him to be Pitcher of the Month or even what he once was when he was dominating the Nationals’ pitching staff. league with the Mets. They just needed a little help in the regular season and then, if something unexpected happens, to get him rolling in just one start in the playoffs, where he could look almost like the dominant right-hander he once was.
“This year,” he said, “there really has been a lot.”
By acquiring Syndergaard, the Phillies were able to politely end their Mickey Maniak experiment, but that was just the sweetening of the deal. No, what they were trying to do was be ready in case they found themselves in an extended postseason and found themselves at a point where they only needed to have enough capable starters to win three home games. And even if Syndergaard and Gibson were less than special this season, Gibson was a 2021 All-Star and Syndergaard had the natural talent to perform that way at any time.
As for the Phillies, they really only need one run.
“I love this team,” Syndergaard said. “And I can’t say enough about these guys and how talented they are.”
They were talented, but they needed one more thing.
It turns out that piece will be available on Thursday, when, in theory, the Phillies could be playing in the World Series.
This is what happens when an organization trusts a proven general manager and takes one big hit of $7.38 million.
Contact Jack McCaffery at firstname.lastname@example.org