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Grading the Mets’ trade for Joey Lucchesi

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Lucchesi is a cheap acquisition who adds much-needed rotation depth.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Colorado Rockies Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Though it was immediately overshadowed by disgusting revelations about the team’s now-former general manager, the Mets did make a notable trade Monday, acquiring Joey Lucchesi from San Diego. The meat-and-potatoes of the deal involved Joe Musgrove heading to the Padres for a handful of prospects, but the Mets were able to jump in and snag a cheap starter with major league experience in exchange for prospect Endy Rodriguez.

Signed for just $10,000 during the 2018 July 2nd (J2) signing period, Rodriguez is close to a total unknown. He could be an athletic, switch-hitting catcher with good contact skills that has the defensive chops to stick behind the dish and ranks in the top 10-15 prospects in the system, which is where Fangraphs had him last January. He also could be a 1B/OF without the thump necessary to be an impact player in those spots, which would leave him more towards the backend of the top-25—we had him at 23. The information vacuum here is even bigger than it normally would be for a J2 signee because of the lost minor league season. Whichever is the case, he’s years away from making major league contributions and is the sort of piece a contender should be willing to move.

Lucchesi is a 27-year-old lefty who still has one pre-arb year left. His most notable pitch is a changeup-curveball hybrid that Lucchesi calls a churve. For a good breakdown of the pitch, check out this video where he explains what his unique offering is (in short, it’s a curve he throws with a circle-change grip). He also throws two fastballs—a four-seam and a sinker, with a preference for the latter—that sit in the low 90s, and he has a funky, deceptive delivery that hides the ball well.

So far, that deception has served Lucchesi fairly well against major league hitters. He debuted in 2018, making 26 starts and tossing 130 innings while striking out more than a batter an inning and posting a 4.08 ERA backed by an 85 DRA-. He followed that up with a very similar 2019, again running a 4.18 ERA and 85 DRA- over 30 starts and 163.2 innings. That’s some solid production, even if he’s someone you really don’t want facing a lineup a third time. For the Padres—who have seemingly traded for every available ace-level starting pitcher and still have Mackenzie Gore in Triple-A—a serviceable back-end starter was an excess, but that’s something the Mets are in desperate need of.

Of course, we’ve skipped Lucchesi’s awful 2020, during which he lost his spot in the rotation in spring training and spent most of the year at the alternate site. Those struggles were a continuation of some issues that plagued Lucchesi down the stretch in 2019, when his velocity dipped and his performance suffered. For a guy living on the edge of acceptable major league velocity, losing a tick on your fastball can be a major issue, and his on-field struggles support that concern.

Pinpointing the cause of the issue is near impossible without more detailed information. Perhaps a mechanical tweak wasn’t caught, or maybe Lucchesi was just tired down the stretch in 2019 and was unable to ramp up quickly when games restarted. The worst case scenario would be an injury, but the Mets are presumably comfortable with Lucchesi’s health given that they just traded for him—though it bears mentioning the Padres do have a history of shady behavior with medicals.

While this concern bears mentioning and monitoring, this trade remains a net positive. The Mets’ starting pitching depth chart is extraordinarily thin, and Lucchesi gives them an optionable, cheap player with a recent track record of above average major league performance. Short of having a universal top-10 pitching prospect waiting at Triple-A, that’s about as ideal of a sixth starter as you could hope for, and the Mets paid very little in either prospects or money to fill that hole. That’s enough for this trade to earn a B+.