The Dodgers might not be spending a ton of money this winter.
Noah Syndergaard, however, is hoping they can help him become the latest pitcher to cash in on a turnaround season in Los Angeles.
During an introductory video press conference on Monday following his one-year, $13 million signing with the team last week, Syndergaard was blunt about his assessment of a solid but unspectacular 2022 performance — and uncompromising in his personal expectations for this upcoming year.
“I fully intend on being a different pitcher next year,” declared the former All-Star pitcher. “Whatever I was doing last year was not the best version of me.”
Syndergaard hasn’t looked like the best version of himself in a while. After earning Rookie of the Year votes in 2015, then Cy Young and MVP votes in 2016, his career has been derailed by injuries — a torn lat muscle in 2017, then Tommy John surgery in 2020 — and inconsistency.
Though he went 10-10 with a 3.94 ERA in 25 outings — a solid showing for a pitcher who missed most of the previous two campaigns — he said bad habits in his mechanics contributed to a drop in velocity (his fastball averaged 98 mph in 2019, but just 94 mph in 2022) and inability to strike out hitters (his 16.8 strikeout rate was a career low, and eighth-worst among MLB pitchers with 130 innings).
“The pitches I threw last year, I just want to throw those away,” Syndergaard said. “I see no excuse as to why I can’t get back to 100 mph and even farther than that. Just doesn’t make any sense. I don’t think there’s a baseball player in MLB that does what I do when it comes to the recovery and the training and the attention to detail.”
To that end, Syndergaard viewed pitching for the Dodgers as his best opportunity.
Although other teams offered the 30-year-old more money and years, according to a person with knowledge of the situation unauthorized to speak publicly, Syndergaard felt the Dodgers pitching staff — led by coaches Mark Prior and Connor McGuiness — had the best track record for facilitating the kind of rebound he seeks.
He watched what they did with Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney last year. He saw those starters go from free agent afterthoughts to earning more than $60 million combined in guaranteed money this offseason.
And he’s hoping he can produce a similar bounce back at Chavez Ravine — where he will wear No. 43, not his usual No. 34 that has been unofficially retired by the team since the end of Fernando Valenzuela’s career.
“I feel like everything that they touch turns to gold,” Syndergaard said. “When you think of the Los Angeles Dodgers, it has this aura around it, where the expectations are super high and you’re just expected to go out there and perform to the highest level.”
Of course, it’s not a fool-proof plan for either side.
The Dodgers have taken plenty of fliers on pitchers in the past, only to see them struggle on the mound (i.e. Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy earlier in Andrew Friedman’s tenure running the front office) or be sidelined by injuries (Cole Hamels, Danny Duffy and Jimmy Nelson the last couple years).
The tactic could be perceived as a cost-cutting measure, especially after the team failed to use their $100 million of cleared payroll from last year to sign any of this winter’s best free agent starters (though they did make a strong push for Justin Verlander).
The Dodgers, however, view their pitcher-friendly reputation around the sport as a unique advantage offering intriguing possibilities.
“The success stories we’ve had this year and in the past, players recognize that,” general manager Brandon Gomes noted at this month’s winter meetings. “It’s beneficial.”
And, the way Syndergaard made it sound on Monday, probably the biggest reason he was willing to take less to sign with the team.
“(I have) the utmost confidence in the staff and the organization to help me get back to being the old me,” Syndergaard said. “What they did with Heaney last year and Tyler Anderson, I definitely want to be in that category.”
Syndergaard’s offseason work is already underway. He began refining his mechanics during trips to Tread Athletics in North Carolina and Driveline Baseball in Arizona, noted training centers with their own histories of aiding big-league pitchers.
After the holidays, the right-hander he will head to Arizona to begin working with the Dodgers coaching staff, as well.
“I just kind of got a really good plan for the offseason,” Syndergaard said, “for when I get to spring training, I’m ready to hit the ground running.”