With reports the Tampa Bay Rays are willing to entertain trades for Blake Snell, this would seemingly be the perfect time for the New York Mets to act. When you look at it, Snell would presumably fill a short and long term fit for the franchise.
Even with Marcus Stroman in the fold, the Mets need to find at least one more starting pitcher. Ideally, they would want two more. Snell would not only fill that need, but he could help make the Mets rotation once again the envy of all of baseball.
Snell also would fill another starting pitching need. After the 2021 season, Steven Matz, Stroman, and Noah Syndergaard will be free agents. That will leave the Mets looking to fill at least 2/5 of their 2022 starting rotation. If you have Snell in the fold that will lessen that burden. The question for the Mets is how much Snell would be worth pursuing.
When many look at Snell, they see the pitcher who won the 2018 Cy Young Award. Our lasting impression of him was his dominant performance in Game 6 of the 2020 World Series before he was inexplicably lifted early. When you look at him from that lens, Snell is an ace level pitcher. When an ace level pitcher available, you need to pursue that pitcher heavily.
However, there are real questions if that is what Snell truly is. Really, when you break it down, Snell’s 2018 Cy Young award winning season has been a complete outlier in his career.
In Snell’s first two seasons, he had a 108 ERA+, 3.87 FIP, 4.5 BB/9, and an 8.9 K/9 while averaging 5.0 innings per start. In the two seasons since winning his Cy Young, Snell had a 111 ERA+, 3.65 FIP, 3.3 BB/9, and a 12.0 K/9 while averaging 4.2 innings per start. Certainly, these past two years have been a significant improvement over what he was over his first two years, but those stats are not remotely indicative of an ace level pitcher.
Of course, this is the Rays, so the analysis is not that simple. Remember, the Rays focus on not allowing their pitchers to go through the rotation a certain amount of times, and they are very strong believers in bullpenning. As a result, it is very arguable their handling of Snell has stunted his ability to again be what he was in 2018.
Taking a deeper look, Snell does have good stuff. Looking at his Baseball Savant page, Snell has elite to near elite fastball velocity and spin, and he has terrific whiff numbers. However, that is only part of the picture. When you dig deeper, you see his spin rates on his change and curve have significantly worsened since his Cy Young season. That said, after struggling with his slider in 2019, he was able to regain his slider spin rate in 2020.
All told, it is really difficult to ascertain what Snell’s trajectory will be. You could argue this is a pitcher who needs to get away from Tampa Bay to permit him to really focus on being able to become the ace level pitcher he can be instead of a five inning starter. You could also argue the Rays know his limitations and that their handling of him allows him to put up such high strikeout numbers, and as a result, with another organization, he may truly suffer.
In some ways, when you see the Rays dangling Snell, you can’t help but be gun shy due to the Chris Archer trade. For many, Archer was a pitcher who could thrive away from Tampa Bay. He was a pitcher with a similarly team friendly contract, and as a result, the Rays were able to extract a kings ransom for him. Now, Archer had his option declined due to TOS issues, and the Pirates are routinely chided for giving up Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, and Shane Baz.
That’s not to say or suggest the Rays knowingly traded damaged goods. That is an unfair and unsubstantiated claim. Rather, this just highlights how well the Rays self scout their team, and it shows their ability to extract a significant price in return for their players. Assuredly, if the Rays do in fact trade Snell, they are likely going to try to command an Archer like return, and really, they should do that.
If you are a team like the Mets, and you want Snell, you better be right. You need the utmost confidence in Jeremy Hefner, Jeremy Accardo, and Phil Regan in their ability to not only return Snell to his 2018 form but to keep him there for the ensuing three seasons. If you are not, the Mets as an organization should not be pursuing Snell. Instead, they can look towards a very interesting starting pitching market which still has Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, Jose Quintana, and others available.
Better yet, they could be using their financial capital to give Stroman and Syndergaard extensions while keeping their player capital in place to swing deals for other areas of need. That said, adding Snell to those two starters and Jacob deGrom is awfully enticing . . . .
Make no mistake, Steven Matz was an unmitigated disaster in 2020. He had a very good start on the second day of the season, but he just kept getting worse and worse.
He had a 44 ERA+ and a 7.76 FIP. He allowed 4.1 homers per nine. His 9.68 ERA was unseemly.
Under no circumstances would you tender a pitcher like him a contract. You non-tender him and make decisions from there. However, the Mets are not really in a position to non-tender him, and aside from that, it would be unwise to non-tender him.
For starters, the free agent starting pitching market is a mess. Beyond Marcus Stroman and Trevor Bauer, the pitchers available are really not guaranteed to be any better than what Matz could give you on what will essentially be a one year deal.
As an organization, you’re in a better position to take a pitcher you know and work with him than go with another pitcher and start from square one. On that note, the Mets should be better equipped to get Matz right.
Entering next season, Steve Cohen has promised to beef up the Mets analytics departments and to upgrade the Mets technology. This means Jeremy Hefner, Jeremy Accardo, and even Phil Regan have more at their disposal to get Matz pitching to how we know he can.
We’ve seen that Matz not too long ago. In the second half of the 2019 season, he seemingly turned the corner.
While working with Regan and Accardo, Matz finished the season going 6-4 with a 3.46 ERA over his final 13 starts. This wasn’t a complete anomaly for Matz. At different points of his career, he’s shown this ability.
Matz was this good in 2015 through the first half of 2017. Again, he had a strong first half in 2018.
There’s a lot you can take away from this. It’s certainly possible injuries took their toll. Maybe, even to this point, he’s battling inconsistency. It’s also possible the Mets increasingly worse defense have had an impact on him. There’s many possible theories and explanations which can be proffered.
Lost in any of them is Matz is a good pitcher who has shown the ability to be a quality Major League starter. For a brief moment, it did appear as if 2020 was going to be the year he took his game to the next level.
During Spring Training, there were reports of his having increased velocity and being ahead of where he’s been in previous seasons.
The first thing Luis Rojas mentioned about Steven Matz's performance in Camp: his increased velocity.
Said he's been mid-to-upper 90s with really good velo differential on his curveball.
"I was pumped," Rojas said.
— Jacob Resnick (@Jacob_Resnick) July 21, 2020
The best pitcher in baseball, Jacob deGrom, was impressed with Matz before the 2020 started saying Matz was pitching “maybe the best I’ve seen him in a long time.” (William Bradford Davis, New York Daily News). He also said of Matz, “I think the upside’s unbelievable.”
That’s the real issue with Matz – the upside is there. It’s incumbent on them to unlock it.
Again, based on the free agent market, there’s not a definitive better option. Also, due to Brodie Van Wagenen’s stripping the Mets pitching depth for no good reason, there’s no one coming through the Mets pipeline to help in 2021.
That leaves keeping Matz as a necessity. They need to figure him out, or possibly, make him a left-handed Seth Lugo in the bullpen. With the state Van Wagenen will be leaving the Mets, that’s it.
Matz is a real asset. With Cohen, they’ll have the people and technology in place to help Matz take his game to the next level. With Sandy Alderson, they have the people in place who were able to help get consistent performances from Matz.
In the end, the Mets need Matz. They should be preparing to tender him a deal and set him up for his best season yet. If for no other reason, there’s really no better option available.
The following people were mentioned: Curtis Granderson, J.D. Davis, Seth Lugo, Jake Marisnick, Marcus Stroman, Noah Syndergaard, Jeremy Hefner, Luis Rojas, Carlos Beltran, Mickey Callaway, Phil Regan, Jeremy Accardo, Steven Matz, Dellin Betances, Edwin Diaz, Justin Wilson, Jeurys Familia, Mo Vaughn, Jared Kelenic, Justin Dunn, Andres Gimenez, Mark Vientos, Rick Porcello, Jason Vargas, Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey, Asdrubal Cabrera, Devin Mesoraco, and others.