WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — You’ll discover a fine line between industrious and cute, and the Mets sure as heck best not cross it when it comes to their starting pitching supply and Steven Matz.
Really, the only way the Mets can justify trading their homegrown left-hander would be if they received a starting pitcher of comparable value, experience and ceiling for Matz. At this juncture on the baseball calendar, that sounds about as likely to happen as Joaquin Phoenix winning a cow-milking contest.
Mike Puma and I reported Monday that the Mets and Yankees have discussed the Mets’ surplus and the Yankees’ shortage in the starting-pitching department, with Matz the most obvious tradeable piece at Citi Field, and no harm exists in chatting. Nor in compiling information, as the Yankees have begun to do on Matz in case their internal options don’t come through.
Will a Matz-to-The-Bronx swap actually occur, though? Don’t wager on it, primarily because, as you likely know already, the Mets’ owners remain extremely wary of trading with their intra-city rivals. Secondarily because the Mets can’t match their arms depth with breadth.
Matz pulling up the rear behind Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman, Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha ranks as pretty darn good. Given the casualties registered by the Yankees (James Paxton and Luis Severino) and Rays (Blake Snell) since the new year arrived, you could place the Mets’ sextet in an upper tier alongside the Nationals and the Dodgers, who recently added David Price to their arsenal.
Behind that sweet six, however, if injury strikes? Young lefty David Peterson hasn’t pitched above Double-A. Stephen Gonsalves, another southpaw, whom the Mets claimed off waivers from the Twins last November, possesses promise without productivity to date. Utilizing Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman as openers carries appeal only if two of Dellin Betances, Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia bounce back from their lost seasons.
Hence the risk in trading Matz to the Yankees, or anywhere, for, say, major league help on the position-playing side, which the Mets would seek. Don’t make the mistake of railing on Matz for failing to his rookie-year hype. Even this version of Matz, who lost his rotation spot for a few weeks in 2019, provides value. Consider that his 1.9 pitching wins above replacement last year, as per Baseball-Reference.com, tied him with Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Lyles and Adam Wainwright for 43rd best in the National League. That means that if you distributed talent equally across the senior circuit, which features 15 teams, Matz would stand as either the third-best or fourth-best pitcher on his club.
Furthermore, while injuries have become part of Matz’s brand, his total of 314 ¹/₃ innings pitched for 2018 and 2019 place him 22nd in the NL. It’s not easy to find someone to pitch at a level approaching league average, as Matz has in that period (a 95 ERA+), for that many innings. His top competitor, Wacha, for instance, has pitched to a 100 ERA+ over the same period yet clocked only 211 innings.
The one Yankees piece that could make some baseball sense for the Mets is Domingo German … just not now. If German, suspended until early June for violating baseball’s domestic violence protocol, can begin his career rehabilitation by owning his abhorrent actions and apologizing repeatedly as well as returning without incident to the mound, then he would become an interesting asset, especially because he can’t become a free agent until 2024. The Mets of course would have to contemplate whether importing German would be worth damaging their brand, all the more so since Matz (a free agent after next year) has won awards and acclaim for his community involvement and character. In a vacuum, though, replacing starting pitching with starting pitching makes the most sense.
Could there be a three-way deal in which the Yankees get Matz and the Mets receive, say, Jeff Samardzija or Johnny Cueto from the Giants, or Mike Minor from the Rangers? Never say never. Much easier written than done, though.
It’s difficult to be all-in and cute all at once. Having built an impressive roster, the Mets had best not outsmart themselves.