The Astros have designated 30-year-old outfielder Carlos Gomez, who the Mets nearly acquired from the Brewers just before the trade deadline least year, for assignment. That means Gomez is off the Astros’ 40-man roster, and in short, the team will probably either trade him or release him. The Mets, trying to make the postseason and carrying four left-handed hitters in their outfield, are a logical potential destination for Gomez, and general manager Sandy Alderson gave a vague “we always have an open mind” to the Post when asked about acquiring him.
Shortly after the Mets called off a deal that would have sent Zack Wheeler and Wilmer Flores to the Brewers for Gomez last year, the Astros traded for him. Since then, he’s been among the worst hitters in baseball. In 486 plate appearances as an Astro, Gomez hit .221/.277/.342 with a 65 wRC+. Those overall numbers look better because he was merely bad in his two months with the Astros last year. He’s been atrocious this year, with a .210/.272/.322 line and a 58 wRC+ in 323 plate appearances. Among hitters with 300 plate appearances in 2016, that’s the fifth-worst wRC+. Only Nick Ahmed, Ben Revere, Alcides Escobar, and Erick Aybar have been worse.
Before joining the Astros, Gomez had developed into one of the better all-around players in baseball. After coming up through the Mets’ minor league system and making his debut with the team in 2007, he was sent to the Twins in the Johan Santana trade. In two seasons there, his defense in center field rated exceptionally, but as was the case in his brief time with the Mets, he was a bad hitter. The Twins traded him to Milwaukee for shortstop J.J. Hardy, and in his first two seasons with that team, he continued to struggle at the plate. In 2012, Gomez finally broke out, as he hit 19 home runs and was a bit above league average as a hitter.
Gomez built upon that breakout year with a stellar 2013 season. He hit .284/.338/.506 with 24 home runs, 40 stolen bases, a 128 wRC+, and—thanks to career-best defensive metrics—7.4 fWAR. He was nearly as good by fWAR in 2014, as his on-base percentage ticked up, his power ticked down slightly, and the defensive numbers weren’t quite as good but remained positive. He got off to a pretty good start in 2015, as he hit .276/.317/.447 through June 9, but he got a few days off as he dealt with a hip injury and had just a .698 OPS from his return to the field on June 13 through the end of the season.
The drop-off over the past year-plus has been drastic. As for what’s changed, the biggest red flag this year might be Gomez’s strikeout rate. In a typical season, Gomez’s strikeout percentage has sat in the the low-to-mid twenties, but this year, he’s struck out 31 percent of the time, far above the league average of 21 percent. He’s swung at pitches both outside of and in the strike zone at the same rate as he always has, but his contact rate on both types of pitches is way down. He’s swung and missed at 17.7 percent of pitches this year, by far the highest mark of his career.
According to Brooks Baseball, Gomez’s whiffs on pitches classified as offspeed and breaking pitches—essentially non-fastballs—account for the spike.
Drilling down to pitch type, Gomez has swung and missed at the following rates this year:
- Slider: 20.34%
- Splitter: 18.86%
- Changeup: 18.57%
- Curveball: 17.81%
When he has made contact, Gomez hasn’t been particularly unfortunate by batting average on balls in play. He has a .300 BABIP this year and a .314 mark for his career. And he hasn’t performed differently against left- or right-handed pitchers, as he has exactly no splits this year with a 58 wRC+ against both.
At the moment, the Mets’ roster is lacking a real center fielder. Juan Lagares is on the disabled list, and Yoenis Cespedes, who manned the position capably before suffering a quad injury on a play in the left-center field gap, is on the DL, too. The team is carrying Ty Kelly as its fifth outfielder, and he hasn’t shown much at the plate in a handful of games with the Mets this year, the only games of his major league career.
In that context, Gomez seems like an obvious fit, particularly if the Mets can acquire him for very little. There’s probably not much of a trade market for him, and if he were released, the Mets would only need to pay him the league minimum the rest of the way while the Astros pick up the rest of his modest $9 million salary. Gomez has been bad enough for long enough that he might not bounce back, and the Mets would probably need to see something out of him very quickly before handing him a significant amount of playing time in center field.
If Gomez can be had for nothing, that is a risk worth taking, as the odds of Gomez being productive seem at least a little bit better than those of the players on the back end of the Mets’ current roster. That’s not all that promising, and Gomez might not be available for nothing. But in the event that he is, the Mets might as well pick him up.