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Grading the Mets’ Chris Bassitt trade

A very underrated and badly needed arm acquired for a relative song. What’s not to like?

Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

After a relatively quiet start to the post-lockout portion of the offseason, the Mets finally made a big move, acquiring RHP Chris Bassitt from the Athletics for JT Ginn and Adam Oller. Bassitt might be the proverbial “best starting pitcher you’ve never heard of”, at least over the last three seasons. Since 2019, Bassitt’s 3.26 ERA is the 15th lowest in baseball among pitchers with at least 200 innings (deGrom and Scherzer are 1st and 5th respectively, if you were curious). Certainly sounds like a nice addition, and that first impression is basically accurate.

By traditional peripherals, Bassitt might seem lucky. His strikeout and walk rates are good but unremarkable, his ERA predictors consistently higher than his ERA, and his BABIP’s consistently low. That screams of a strike- thrower bound for regression, and is perhaps the kind of arm we would have discounted ten years ago as a result. Now that we’re aware of more modern ideas like Seam-Shifted Wake (SSW) and Vertical Attack Angle (VAA), Bassitt’s success is much more explainable. Dave Capobianco had a great breakdown of Bassitt’s arsenal here that I’d encourage you to check out, but the bottom line is that Bassitt is a top-20 pitcher in the game.

As for the fit, it’s seamless. The Mets needed an additional starter with the injury uncertainty around frankly the entirety of their rotation. Jacob deGrom, Carlos Carrasco, and Taijuan Walker all missed significant time last year, and the latter is currently rehabbing from a (minor) offseason knee procedure. Max Scherzer is as old as dust in baseball terms. Even David Peterson, Tylor Megill, and Jordan Yamamoto, presumptively the younger, more durable depth options, have dealt with injuries and inconsistent performance. Now instead of relying on those arms and hoping that two injuries don’t thrust checks notes Josh Walker into the starting rotation, the Mets have an enviable depth situation, with multiple young, optionable starters who have proven their ability to at least be backend guys waiting in the minors. It’s more pitching depth than the organization has had at any point in the last two decades.

For such a valuable piece, one might expect a hefty price, but the acquisition cost here is frankly laughable. J.T. Ginn’s performance could generously be described as “okay”, but that’s not exactly what you want to hear about a 22-year-old, SEC pitcher in Advanced-A who was supposed to have three average or better pitches as a draftee. The fastball looks very hittable and the secondaries didn’t pop - that’s a profile more on track for a David Peterson-level outcome than any sort of role at the top of rotation. This was all in Ginn’s first season post-TJ of course, so things could get better in the future, but it’s an eminently replaceable piece that a team in the Mets’ position should be willing to trade.

Oller is arguably the more interesting piece the Mets gave up. Twenty-seven-year-old Minor League Rule 5 picks aren’t typically highly sought after, but Oller popped in the second half of 2022. It’s not your average 95-and-a-slider arsenal, as both of Oller’s main offerings have some very favorable pitch metrics. On a bad or middling team, he’s the sort of arm you’d love to give 60-80 MLB innings in the hopes of finding a huge developmental win. The Mets, however, are clearly angling for one of the playoff byes in the NL, and giving a big chunk of innings to Oller is simply not the sort of uncertainty you want on this kind of roster. It may sting a bit if Oller develops into a #4 starter, but that’s the cost of doing business (and is a fairly long short regardless).

The one quibble with this trade would be with the choice of arm. We extoled Bassitt’s virtues earlier, but he’s still a 33-year-old pending free agent. There’s no dearth of arms rumored to be available and a younger option with more years under contract might’ve been attainable for a similar cost. Tyler Mahle (who the Mets were linked to) and Frankie Montas are the two names I’ll highlight here as younger, similarly productive players with an extra year under team control. I don’t raise this point to poo-poo the whole trade - on the whole, it’s a clear win for the Mets given their needs, the price they paid, and Bassitt’s talent. There is an opportunity cost though, and if one of those other arms winds up being traded for a similar package, I’d question the Mets decision to prioritize Bassitt here. The Mets could make this point moot by extending Bassitt as well, and as an older player who won’t hit free agency for the first time til his age-34 season, he’ll likely cost a lot less than you expect.

My preference for certain other arms aside, this is a great move. It’s a clear A, and I wouldn’t quibble with someone giving it an A+. Subsequent trades might require a tweak down to an A-, but that will have to wait for our final grading piece after we see how the rest of the offseason plays out.