The Mets’ signing of Tommy Pham wasn’t exactly an inspiring one. The team needed another right-handed bench bat with outfield flexibility last winter, and they seemed to be shooting more for names like Adam Duvall, Andrew McCutchen, and AJ Pollock on the free agent market. However, the Mets instead settled on Pham, who was considered more of a down-market option at the time.
Pham was coming off a poor year for the Reds and Red Sox where he hit for just a 90 wRC+ in 622 PAs between the two teams. He also carried a history of character issues on and off the field that included several incidents in 2022, with the most notable one being when he slapped Joc Pederson on the field before a game over a fantasy football dispute.
That said, there were reasons to believe in the Pham signing at the time. The Mets just needed a player who could mash against lefties and play the corner outfield in a part-time role, and Pham always had lots of success against southpaws; he still managed to hit for a 117 wRC+ against LHP even in his poor 2022. There were also signs in Pham’s underlying batted ball data that indicated he hadn’t lost as much offensively as he seemed to have in his top-line stats. He was still in the 93rd percentile in average exit velocity per Baseball Savant, and still sported solid chase rates. The Mets analytics department probably looked at that and saw a productive player still in there somewhere.
Still, Mets fans were largely skeptical of the veteran, especially after he got off to a slow start in which he hit just .196/.283/.348 over the first month of the season. But, once again, the underlying batted ball data indicated Pham deserved better; his average exit velocity for the month was 93.8 MPH, even higher than his 2022 EV, and he was running just a .212 BABIP for the month.
Sometimes just looking at exit velocity can be misleading, but it wasn’t for Pham. The 35-year-old continued to scorch the ball, mostly against LHP, and the results eventually started come. He put up a much more productive month of May, and then followed that with a huge breakout in June.
It actually started on May 28th in Colorado, to be exact. According to Pham himself, the struggling veteran was called into the manager’s office earlier that week and was told by Buck Showalter that the analytics team advised him not to play Pham much during that road trip. The effervescent outfielder, always seemingly motivated by spite, took that personally, and realized he had a point to prove. Pham went 3-for-5 with a double and a triple that Sunday in Colorado, and then absolutely took off over the next six weeks.
Pham slashed a ridiculous .378/.431/.694 over his next 109 plate appearances, which was good for a Bondsian 203 wRC+. He hit 6 homers in that span and drove in 24 runs. He turned into a rare bright spot in an underperforming Mets lineup. Pham pretty much snatched an everyday job from Mark Canha in this time, and quickly became Pete Alonso’s lineup protection in the heart of the order.
Pham couldn’t save the Mets’ season, though, especially since he cooled back off in July. But the ridiculous June numbers boosted his overall batting line enough to make him one of the most interesting rental bats at the trade deadline. And on August 1st, the Mets traded Pham to the Diamondbacks for prospect Jeremy Rodriguez just minutes before the deadline.
Rodriguez was a fairly unknown 17-year-old shortstop in the DSL, but when he got to the Mets, it became really clear what their scouts saw in him. Rodriguez crushed the DSL in his brief time in the Mets organization, flashing strong tools for a player of his youth, and is now getting some buzz as a potential top-10 prospect in the Mets system this offseason.
Pham, for his part, performed acceptably but not spectacularly for the Diamondbacks down the stretch, hitting for a 92 wRC+ in the regular season with Arizona, but he did provide value by hitting six homers, stealing 11 bases, and knocking in 32 RBIs in his 8 weeks there. He struggled in the postseason overall, but did have a few big hits that helped Arizona become surprising NL champs.
Pham, always brutally honest and never afraid to burn bridges with former teams, also made headlines after he was traded when he, not once, but twice, dicussed the lack of work ethic and drive he observed among some of the veterans on the Mets. He praised the leadership of players like Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor, and Brandon Nimmo, and praised Showalter’s leadership, but was fairly negative about the clubhouse he experienced in New York. Mets players, when asked about these comments, were largely ambivalent and complementary towards Pham, though Jeff McNeil seemed to push back on the comments a little stronger than some others, saying “Guys are super professional around here...We go about our business, and everybody comes ready to play and does what they need to do.”
All in all, Pham hit .268/.348/.472 with 10 homers and a 125 wRC+ in his time with the Mets, and then was flipped for a very exciting young prospect. For a one-year, $6 million contract, that is a really good outcome, and one that most people didn’t see coming.
Some have wondered whether the Mets would be interested in bringing Pham back to the now that he is a free agent again, and the Mets have a corner outfield need. But given what Pham has said indicated about some of the players still on the team, it’s hard to think a reunion is very likely here.