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Grading the Mets’ Brooks Raley trade

A quality left-handed reliever at a minimal price, but there are some elements to give you pause.

Tampa Bay Rays v Cleveland Guardians Photo by George Kubas/Diamond Images via Getty Images

After addressing their rotation at the winter meetings, the Mets turned to the bullpen, acquiring left-handed reliever Brooks Raley from the Rays for Keyshawn Askew. Raley, signed as a free agent last offseason, has one year and $4.5M left on his contract with a $6.5M club option for 2024. He slides nicely into a role at the back-end of the Mets bullpen, providing not just a desperately needed lefty reliever but a legitimate setup option.

Raley’s success in recent years has gone somewhat unnoticed. After flaming out as a prospect in the early 2010s and spending a couple years in Korea, he made his way back to the US in 2020, signing a minor league deal with Cincinnati. The Reds DFA’d him after only a few innings, but the Astros were quick to snap Raley up. Throughout the rest of 2020 and 2021, he posted an unsightly ERA in the high 4’s but ran some dominant peripherals, striking out 12 batters per nine, limiting walks, and avoiding long balls at a reasonable rate.

With the Rays, Raley improved even further. He basically scrapped his curveball and 4-seam fastball and drastically cut back on the usage of his cutter, instead throwing more sliders and sinkers and drastically improving his changeup. Nearly across the board his numbers improved; batters slugged slightly better against his slider, but were left flailing against his sinker and change more often than not. Despite not having great extension or velocity, Raley is elite at limiting hard contact (98th percentile) and inducing chases (92%) and well above average at inducing whiffs (67%) per Statcast. It’s everything you want out of a late-inning reliever.

That begs the question of what the Rays are doing here. Raley is cheap, cheap enough even for the eternally miserly Rays, and the return isn’t fantastic. I’m a big fan of Keyshawn Askew, but more in a personal cheeseball way than in an actual belief that he’s a top prospect. Indeed, he didn’t even crack Baseball Prospectus’s 2023 top-20 and would not have ranked in the top-25 of the forthcoming Amazin’ Avenue list had he not been traded, something of an indictment given how thin this system is as a whole. Askew put up strong numbers in Single- and High-A last year, but he’s a 22-year-old college arm that should be dominating that level and is almost certainly a reliever long term.

Maybe Raley’s second half performance - during which he looked much closer to his 2021 self than the truly elite option he seemed to be in the first half of 2022 - is actually indicative of something. Perhaps Askew is much better than the public-side consensus gives him credit for. We might just have some paranoia given the relative reputations of the teams involved in this deal. From what we concretely know, this seems like a very nice move by the Mets to improve the bullpen at a low cost, but I have at least a modicum of nagging doubt in the back of my mind.

The baseball assessment aside, Raley’s personal reputation merits discussion. Raley was infamously among a group of Rays relievers who refused to participate in the team’s Pride Night. He also was among the handful of players who refused to get vaccinated and missed games in Toronto as a result. I’ll not mince words, his views are repugnant and should be regarded as such, and I’d not fault anyone for being unexcited at the prospect of rooting for such a player. At the same time, these views are more popular among baseball players as a whole than we’d like to admit. For the purposes of this grade, non-baseball actions such as these will not be a factor, but I would not fault anyone who hates this move because of them.

Concluding with the baseball side of things, the Mets have added a potentially great lefty reliever at minimal cost in terms of prospects, money, or guaranteed years. Raley’s track record is relatively short and his second-half perhaps a bit concerning, but the realistic floor here is a quality left-handed relief option, something the roster completely lacked. Another move that won’t win the Mets a championship on its own but was necessary and reasonable, earning a solid B.