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Grading the Steven Matz trade

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It sucks to see a fan favorite leave, but this was a good move.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays-Workouts Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

In yet another surprise move, the Mets agreed to trade Steven Matz to the Blue Jays last week. The Mets received three pitchers - Sean Reid-Foley, Josh Winckowski, and Yennsy Diaz - in return, clearing $5 million and adding some new names to their organizational pitching depth.

A 2nd round pick from 2014, Reid-Foley fits the prep-pitcher stereotype almost to a T. He’ll flash a plus slider, but it usually comes out flat. Occasionally he’ll snap off a good curve with downward break, but usually it blends ineffectively into his other breaking ball. Some innings he’ll hit his spots and look great, others he’ll get his stuff in the zone in bad spots and get hit hard, and sometimes he’ll fail to find the zone at all. He’s just 25 and there’s still the potential for things to click, but it’s more likely to come in relief than as a starter at this point.

Winckowski doesn’t have the same name recognition as Reid-Foley, but he made improvements in 2019 despite pitching through injury and showed up in instructs with a new splitter. He’s probably not quite MLB ready, but he’s close to it, and he should be a functional depth starter. Diaz, meanwhile, already made a very brief MLB debut in 2019 and is close to a finished product. He has good velocity and a solid changeup, though he probably works better as a reliever than in the rotation. Still, he’s another functional depth starter to stash in the high minors for the time being.

None of these three prospects are very exciting or likely to be stars. Instead, all three should slot in as high-minors pitching depth, something the Mets sorely lacked. Reid-Foley and Diaz are both already on the 40-man roster and have options remaining, while Winckowski still has not been added (he was left exposed in the Rule 5 draft and went unpicked). The options are particularly important, as optionable, viable major league arms are something the Mets needed badly but aren’t typically available in free agency.

The more difficult portion of this trade to evaluate is Matz. Injuries have sapped what was immense potential for the lefty, who has consistently pitched through pain throughout his career. Last year, things seemed to finally totally break down, as he posted a ghastly 9.68 ERA over 30.2 innings, hitting the injured list for shoulder bursitis along the way. His velocity didn’t actually dip as much as you’d expect, but his release point wandered and all his pitches moved a bit differently than they had previously in his career. Taking these changes into account, arsenal metrics from Ethan Moore project Matz to have one of the weakest stuff ratings among any starter in baseball next season.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Mets chose to tender Matz at $5.2 million in his final year before free agency, and he seemed on track to fight for a spot at the back of the rotation with David Peterson and Joey Lucchesi. There was even an argument for keeping him in the majors and optioning one of the other two arms, just to maintain organizational depth. Instead, the Mets found a way to shed themselves of $5 million while actually improving their overall starting pitching depth chart.

We could spend several thousand more words discussing how to value Matz and likely be no closer to a definitive answer. Could he bounce back with some better health next year? Absolutely, but it’s far more likely that he continues to be an injury-prone, back-end option at this point. Even in the worst case, the Mets traded one year of Matz for 15+ years of controllable pitching depth. Team control often gets overvalued in discussions regarding elite players, but it’s much more important around the roster margins and the Mets clearly did very well in that department here.

Bottom line, the Mets traded a high-risk, low-reward pitcher who was a pending free agent for optionable arms they needed, improving their organizational pitching depth and opening up a bit more salary space in the process. They took an asset that was emminently replaceable on the free agent market and managed to recoup some useful pieces that should be with the team for years to come. This move earns a solid A.