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Grading the Mets’ Jake Marisnick trade

Penny-pinching owners lead to more bad process trades.

World Series - Washington Nationals v Houston Astros - Game Seven Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

On Thursday, the Mets made their first notable move of the offseason, trading two prospects to Houston for center fielder Jake Marisnick. There aren’t any huge names changing hands here—shocking that the Mets aren’t involved in the top end of the market, I know—but it’s a trade that merits a breakdown because of the logic behind it.

Marisnick fills a clear need on a Mets roster lacking a true center fielder or any real base stealing threat. He also bats right-handed, which in theory complements Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo well. Unfortunately, Marisnick’s very limited bat and relatively small platoon splits means he’s not actually any better versus lefties than either of the Mets’ homegrown options (90 wRC+ for Marisnick, 90 for Conforto, and 119 for Nimmo). Marisnick is also no spring chicken, as he’s set to cost $3 million in his final year of arbitration as a 28-year-old. Despite those warts, he remains a useful fourth outfielder that fits the Mets’ shoestring budget.

While the Mets didn’t pay a huge price by any means, they did surrender at least one noteworthy piece. Blake Taylor—the return for Ike Davis many moons ago, in case your had forgotten—blossomed as a multi-inning reliever after a full time move to the bullpen in 2019. A spin-rate darling, Taylor had a reasonable shot to see major league time with the Mets this season and would have been particularly useful as a lefty who can get righties out given the new three-batter minimum. It also would’ve given the Mets a chance to leverage a player in the mold of the new multi-inning relief options that have become more popular over the last few seasons.

The Mets also gave up Kenedy Corona, an older DSL signing with a funky approach but really good numbers. Realistically, Corona is just a flier, but that’s what we said about Neraldo Catalina, an unknown DSL pitcher the Mets gave away for Wilmer Font who now looks like a potentially special prospect for the Rays. For more on Corona, check out Steve Sypa’s writeup here.

In a vacuum, trading for Jake Marisnick is fine. In a vacuum, the players the Mets gave away are little more than marginal pieces. This trade didn’t occur in a vacuum, however, and that’s where the logic of this deal falls apart. Jake Marisnick is not meaningfully better than Kevin Pillar, who was non-tendered by the Giants just two weeks ago. Their overall profiles are a bit different, as Marisnick plays better defense and has more speed, but Pillar has a more significant platoon split to leverage. Their net contribution and overall role are essentially the same, though.

Pillar was projected to make $10 million in arbitration but was non-tendered because he’s simply not worth that much. Realistically, he would be looking at a $5 to $7 million AAV, a cost that’s only marginally more than Marisnick’s projected $3 million salary. In essence, the Mets tossed away a potentially useful reliever and a 19-year-old flier to save $2 to $4 million dollars. That’s simply not worth it, and unless Pillar’s market is a lot more robust than what we’re estimating, the opportunity cost of making this trade is difficult to justify.

Defenders of this trade will likely note a similarly harsh evaluation of last year’s acquisition of J.D. Davis. I gave that trade a D, noting the high acquisition cost and Davis’ lack of production. I was obviously too harsh, mostly because I doubted the Mets’ ability to identify hidden upside where the Astros could not. The Marisnick acquisition is not particularly comparable, however. Davis had under 200 PA in the majors, while Marisnick has more than five full seasons. The former was a potential major contributor if he hit on his prospect status. The latter is what he is at this point, an eminently replaceable fourth outfielder.

Synthesizing all of these factors together, this trade isn’t a particularly good one. The prospect haul isn’t bad enough to totally fail it, but the process, born of nothing more than penny pinching, is extremely poor. As such, I’ll grade this move as a C- for the moment, though I reserve the right to adjust that based on where Pillar (or another equivalent’s) market price eventually lands.