When the dust settled on the Mets spending spree, there was one hole on the roster that still needed to be addressed: the outfield depth. Last offseason, the Mets did not sign a backup outfielder to a major league contract, and they instead went into the season with Travis Jankowski as the only reserve outfielder and used Jeff McNeil’s positional versatility to spell their outfielders for the early part of the year.
This offseason, the Mets wanted to sign a major league backup. There were a few players on their radar for this role: AJ Pollock, Andrew McCutchen, Adam Duvall, and Trey Mancini were at the top of the list. But they missed out on those guys, and wound up having to go off the radar to land the player they got: Tommy Pham
Pham has been around the block. Believe it or not, the 34-year-old was drafted out of high school in 2006. He kicked around the Cardinals minor league system for eight years due to numerous injuries and an eye condition before finally breaking through to the majors in 2014. After serving as an oft-injured part time player for a few years, Pham caught the Cardinals Devil Magic in 2017 and emerged as one of the best hitters in baseball by posting a 149 wRC+ that year. He kept up similarly elite offensive production with the Rays in 2018 and 2019, though he’s regressed in the years since.
Pham went to San Diego in 2020 and struggled in the brief season, but bounced back to league average production in 2021. He spent 2022 on both the Reds and the Red Sox and only mustered an 89 wRC+ on the year, the worst full-season mark of his career.
Even with his recent decline in production, Pham fills the role he was signed to play just about perfectly. He has always been a lefty masher, and that has continued even as the rest of his production has fallen off. He sports a career 132 wRC+ against southpaws, and still had a slick 117 wRC+ against them last year.
Of course, Pham is not the hitter he was from 2017-2019, but he still hits the ball hard when he makes contact. Last year, his average exit velocity ranked in the 93rd percentile in all of baseball, and he still hit for reasonable power. The source of his decline was mostly plate discipline based, as Pham walked only 9% of the time, a career-low for him. Based on that, the Mets probably feel there is still more upside left in the tank to be tapped into here with a few tweaks.
On defense, Pham’s value is limited these days. He’s a sub par defensive corner outfielder based on the metrics, but he likely still represents a defensive upgrade over Darin Ruf.
While his production on the field has always been slightly overlooked and underrated, Pham has made headlines for his off-field behavior. In October 2020, he was stabbed in an altercation outside a strip club, which required surgery and over 200 stitches to recover from. When he was asked about fans heckling him after that strip club incident, Pham pointed to his training in Muay Thai, kung fu, and boxing as ways he could choose to defend himself.
Incredibly, that wasn’t the last time Pham threatened someone with Muay Thai. Last year, when Luke Voit slid hard into Tyler Stephenson on the Reds, Pham stood up for his teammate and challenged Voit, claiming “If Luke wants to settle it, I get down really well. Anything, Muay Thai, whatever. I’ve got a (gym) owner here who will let me use his facility.”
A month later, Pham got into an altercation before a game, this time with Joc Pederson, relating to a disagreement over fantasy football roster management. This is the incident people most know Pham for now, as it continues to be popular meme fodder. Pham slapped Pederson across the face, but it never escalated to Muay Thai combat, though I’m sure Pham had it in his back pocket if needed.
Of course, it’s easy to laugh at Pham’s aggressive tendencies, but they make more sense when you learn about his past. Pham mostly had to fend for himself as a child, with his birth father incarcerated for his entire youth, his mother working two jobs at once, and a step-father whom Pham claims he had a contentious relationship with, including when the step-father allegedly stabbed him in a fight.
Regardless, in case you were worried about his character issues upsetting the Mets clubhouse, Andy Martino made sure to let us know that the Mets did extensive background work on what Pham is like as a teammate and pointed out that, even though he slapped a man over fantasy football, Pham has never actually struck a teammate. Comical as it is to say, it is true—Pham has never had any reported issues with teammates.
As long as that stays true and Pham stays away from any disputes, altercations, and fantasy football in 2023, he should avoid causing too much trouble. On the field, his days of elite production are likely well behind him, but he still stands a good chance to excel as a lefty-masher in a highly leveraged role. And hey, if the Mets get in any more bench clearing incidents because they keep getting hit by pitches, they’ll probably want the Muay Thai specialist on their side.