Trade 1: RHP Bobby Wahl, RHP Adam Hill, 2B Felix Valerio for OF Keon Broxton
The first of these three moves was at worst fine and arguably pretty good. Keon Broxton is a plus defender in center field, costs very little, and has consistently posted elite exit velocity numbers. Of course, he also can’t really make contact (career strikeout rate of 36%), hasn’t done much over the last two years, and is already 29. He’s got a high variance skill set that could turn into 600 very good PA, but more likely turns into a bad hitter with good defense and speed on the basepaths.
More important than Broxton is the acquisition cost. Wahl is a fringey, 26-year-old, right-handed reliever with TOS in his injury history. Hill is a fourth round college arm with no control who is probably looking at a ceiling similar to Wahl’s. Valerio is an 18-year-old in the DSL with underwhelming tools and size, meaning his hit tool and plate discipline will have to continue to be elite to have a shot at a real major league role. All of these guys have some modicum of value, but are mostly spare parts.
In total, the Mets gave up very little in terms of both 2019 impact and long term prospect value, while receiving a usable major league player for the thinnest part of the roster. Even if Broxton can only manage a wRC+ in the mid-80s as he has the last two seasons, he’s a better fourth outfielder than checks notes Rajai Davis or Rhymer Liriano. More likely for the Mets he’s a starter in CF, which isn’t ideal (sign A.J. Pollock) but at least palatable in a world where the Mets allocate another $20 million to other parts of the roster. They won’t be doing that of course, but this trade is still a solid acquisition.
Trade 2: 2B Luis Santana, CF Ross Adolph, C Scott Manea for 3B J.D. Davis, INF Cody Bohanek
Here’s where things went off the rails. J.D. Davis is at least somewhat interesting. A former top 10 prospect, he hasn’t gotten a ton of time with the Astros due to their significant depth on the infield, and his limited major league time hasn’t been very impressive (60 wRC+ in 181 PA). His minor league lines are much more encouraging, albeit in a very hitter friendly environment. Still, he has a stiff swing and a slider-speed bat, so his realistic upside is something like Wilmer Flores who can actually sort of play third and stand in the corner outfield.
That’s a useful piece, and I’m a big fan of trying to buy low on former top prospects and gambling on them as bench pieces. The thing is, the Mets didn’t really buy low. Both Luis Santana and Ross Adolph are real prospects, and the latter should move quickly through the minors as a seasoned college bat. Davis, Santana, and Adolph are all in the 40/50 range as players (on the 20-80 scale, not in any top 100), with Davis’s only advantage being proximity to the majors. It’s a huge overpay for a player the Astros didn’t have room for and very while might have been forced off their 40-man roster in the not-so-distant future.
The true impetus behind the move, as with all things Mets, is money. Davis’s upside is something like Wilmer Flores, but if you’re really looking for that kind of player, tender Wilmer Flores or re-sign him for a couple million dollars. Instead, the Mets weakened what is already a thin farm system to overpay for a bat with a platoon-level ceiling so they could save a couple bucks.
I’ve neglected one aspect of this of course; perhaps the Mets’ internal models see more upside in Davis’s potential power, and have targeted him because they think there’s real breakout potential here. I think that’s distinctly possible, but also has two serious flaws. First, the idea that the Mets, with one of the smallest analytics departments in baseball, will be able to pull a fast one on the Astros is quite a stretch. Second, if the Mets are trying to unlock latent power potential, why did they hire Chili Davis, a hitting coach whose 1980s style philosophies contradicts most of the tenants of the fly ball revolution? Either the Mets have seen something and are botching the execution, or this is the latest example of them failing to self-scout (particularly in the low minors) leading to an overpay.
Trade 3: C Kevin Plawecki for RHP Walter Lockett, 2B Sam Haggerty
Kevin Plawecki isn’t elite, flashy, or particularly fun to watch. However, he’s a legitimate major league catcher, either as a second division starter or as an above-average backup. There’s not much upside beyond that at 27, but catchers have weird aging curves, so you never know. What Plawecki did have was relatively good health, something that isn’t as certain for Wilson Ramos and Travis d’Arnaud. A healthy backup who isn’t a total black hole at the plate is a useful piece on this roster, and Allison McCague wrote about why trading Plawecki would be a bad idea.
I didn’t totally agree with Allison’s premise, mostly because I’m a bigger fan of Travis d’Arnaud. I prefer bench bats with upside, and d’Arnaud is a better defender and has demonstrated more offensive aptitude than Plawecki ever has (though that was several years and injuries ago). d’Arnaud is $2.5 million more expensive than Plawecki, however, which made non-tendering d’Arnaud and keeping the cheaper, healthier player a viable option. To me, it came down to whether the potential return for trading Plawecki was worth the extra money the team would have to pay to d’Arnaud. Perhaps there was an interesting reliever, a useful LOOGY, or a potential swing-man that the Mets could’ve picked up.
Instead, they got two prospects that didn’t come close to the top 10 in a very weak Indians farm system. Lockett is a right handed starter with poor strikeout rates and unremarkable ERAs and FIPs in the high minors, while Haggerty is a second baseman that hasn’t progressed past Double-A. At best, this return is a depth starter and a utility infielder, and while Plawecki was never going to generate a sexy return, this package is a proverbial bag of balls. For reference, the Mets gave up significantly more for J.D. Davis, a corner bat who has never hit in the majors, than they got for Kevin Plawecki, an established major league catcher.
Perhaps this wouldn’t be as big a deal on a team with a bigger budget, but the $2.5 million extra going to d’Arnaud could’ve added another useful reliever (Tony Sipp, Tony Barnette, Carson Smith, Oliver Perez, etc.) to a bullpen that still needs reinforcements. It’s a gross misallocation of resources, and a needless gamble on the health of two catchers who have been anything but healthy over the course of their careers.