PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The inevitable struck before 8 a.m. on an otherwise quiet morning at Mets camp. As he had been solemnly predicting to himself for weeks, Noah Syndergaard stepped into manager Terry Collins' office and walked out a Minor Leaguer.
The Mets reassigned Syndergaard, their top prospect, and eight others to Minor League camp on Tuesday in their latest round of cuts. Though Syndergaard dazzled at times in his first taste of the big leagues, money and service-time concerns -- as well as the Mets' desire to give him some seasoning at Triple-A Las Vegas -- made the decision a foregone conclusion from the opening days of spring.
It is a blueprint the Mets established two years ago with Matt Harvey and recycled last summer with Zack Wheeler. They were not about to change the process this time around.
"No matter how well I threw during Spring Training, whether I struck out everybody and didn't allow any runs whatsoever, I think I still was going to go over to the Minor League side regardless," Syndergaard said. "I know there's a business standpoint to it, and there's other things I need to work on on the mound."
The Mets also reassigned right-handers Rafael Montero, Joel Carreno, Ryan Reid, Cory Mazzoni and Miguel Socolovich to Minor League camp, along with first basemen Brandon Allen and Matt Clark, and catcher Juan Centeno.
But it was Syndergaard whose demotion was both the least surprising and the most impactful. The Mets' top overall prospect and their most realistic ticket to imminent contention, Syndergaard posted a 5.19 ERA in four Grapefruit League starts, striking out 10 and walking five over 8 2/3 innings. Collins called his curveball "the hook from hell." Syndergaard will unleash it early this season in Las Vegas, after ending last season with 11 strong starts at Double-A Binghamton.
He also boasts high-90s heat, and if all goes well, will follow the path that Wheeler traveled in 2013, making his Major League debut around mid-June. That will prevent him from becoming a Super 2 arbitration player, saving the Mets significant money later this decade, while ensuring that he does not become a free agent until 2020.
"The message was, 'We'll see you pretty soon,' basically," said Syndergaard, who pitched four innings of one-run ball in a Minor League game later Tuesday morning. "That's always a good thing to hear."
It is a message that Syndergaard saw coming from the earliest days of Spring Training, when Harvey approached him to say that "they obviously have a plan here."
"I told him that going in, within the first week," Harvey said. "'Come in here, do your job, get ready, don't get discouraged, keep going … and you'll be there sooner rather than later.'
"He's a hard worker, obviously. It seemed like every day he was leaving here with a completely sweaty shirt, so the work ethic is not an issue."
The issue is procedural, as it was for most of the players cut Tuesday. Montero may have been more of a realistic consideration than Syndergaard to make the team, particularly after Collins said that the club would discuss carrying him as a reliever. But Montero will instead join Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and two others in the Vegas rotation. Jenrry Mejia, who remains in big league camp for now, is also likely to be a part of that group.
That leaves only a few candidates left for bullpen jobs behind Bobby Parnell, Jeurys Familia, Scott Rice and Carlos Torres, all of whom are locks. Vic Black should take one of the spots despite an underwhelming spring -- the Mets love his arm -- while Jose Valverde seems headed toward the other. John Lannan is the leading candidate for the final spot due to his ability to provide multiple innings or, if Jon Niese is slow to recover from injury, fill in as a starter.
So those are the pitchers on whom the Mets will concentrate their attention over the next two weeks. Not Syndergaard, who never had a chance to make the roster.
"We don't want to keep preaching patience, but there's some real light at the end of the tunnel," Collins said.