Mets Should Extend Steven Matz Now
As we saw last offseason, there is usually discussion about the need to extend the team’s best players, and to the Mets credit, they did what they needed to do in order to agree to a contract extension with Jacob deGrom. With him winning the Cy Young Award last year, the team is so far very happy with their decision.
In the ensuing years, the team has real decisions to make on contract extensions for their other starters. Marcus Stroman is a free agent after the 2020 season. After the 2021 season, both Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz will be free agents. Unless the Mets move to extend one or all of them, they stand in danger of losing them all to free agency like they are currently facing with Zack Wheeler.
While the immediate need is Stroman, and the focus is mostly centered around Syndergaard, now is a very good time for the Mets to entertain extending Matz.
In 2019, Matz arguably had the worst season of his career. Overall, he was 11-10 with a 4.21 ERA, 1.341 WHIP, 2.9 BB/9, and an 8.6 K/9. Looking at all the numbers, the ERA, WHIP, BB/9, and K/9 were the second worst of his career. The same can be said for the H/9. When considering most of his career worsts came in a 2017 season where he had a massive bone spur, this was his worst season.
Still, there were some real positives which emerged during the 2019 season which should have the Mets looking to extend him. As a point of demarcation, Matz moved to the middle of the pitching rubber before his July 16 start against the Minnesota Twins.
Prior to that start, Matz struggled mightily, and he would be demoted to the bullpen heading into the All-Star Break. In his 16 starts and two relief appearances, he was 5-6 with a 4.89 ERA, 1.481 WHIP, 3.2 BB/9, and an 8.7 K/9. As he was coming out of the bullpen, Matz was limited in his pitch count, but he fared well against the Twins allowing just two earned over four innings. After this start, his season would turn the corner.
From July 21 until the end of the season, Matz would make 13 starts going 6-4 with a 3.46 ERA, 1.181 WHIP, 2.6 BB/9, and an 8.7 K/9. Over this stretch, he had a 3.65 FIP. It’s a small sample size, but it is notable his FIP over this stretch was better than what Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin had.
Looking at the numbers, Matz pitched like the Mets fourth best starter, which honestly, is all the Mets expect him to be. On another team, he could be a three or even a number two, especially for teams who have begun to de-emphasize starting pitching.
In addition to the improved stats Matz had since he moved his position on the rubber, there were some other promising signs. For a pitcher who has dealt with injury problems, he has made 30 starts for consecutive seasons, and his 160.1 innings were a career high. The exit velocity and barrel percentage against him was the lowest it has been since 2016.
Really, when you break it all down, Matz is a pitcher in his prime, and he appears to be getting stronger the further away from 2017 he gets. He is making the adjustments he needs to make. He is also going to start getting expensive.
In 2019, his first year of arbitration, he made $2.625 million. According to MLB Trade Rumors, Matz is slated to essentially double his salary to $5.3 million. If he is the pitcher he was from the middle of July to the end of the season, that number is going to skyrocket in 2021.
At the moment, the Mets have a very low baseline with Matz, and it’s very possible this will be the cheapest he will ever be. By seeking to lock him up now, the Mets will have some cost certainty on someone who has been getting stronger and promises to improve. They’re securing a spot in their rotation at a time when they could potentially lose 4/5 of their rotation over a three year span.
Moreover, by extending Matz now, the Mets are getting some cost certainty. Locking up Matz on the lower end should allow them to turn their attention to the rest of the rotation as well as a player like Michael Conforto, who will hit free agency the same time as Syndergaard and Matz.
Overall, Matz is a homegrown Met who grew up a Mets fan. While he has not been the pitcher many expected when his grandfather was jumping up and down in the stands, he has proved himself to be a useful Major League starter, and he is someone who could well be part of the equation over the next five years. With him likely being at his cheapest now, this is the right time to look to extend him.