Mets Add Three Players at Deadline, Though 2020 Impact Could Be Minimal

Wracked by injuries and currently running fourth in the NL East at 15-20 — but even so just two games out of the eighth playoff spot — the Mets added a trio of players via separate deadline deals with the Rangers and Orioles on Monday. While catcher Robinson Chirinos and infielder Todd Frazier are the more familiar names and could have relevance beyond this season, it’s reliever Miguel Castro who will probably have the most staying power. Each addition addresses an area of need, though their 2020 impact might be minimal, and the hard-throwing righty did cost them a prospect of note as well as either a player to be named later or cash.

On a team that lost Noah Syndergaard to Tommy John surgery and Marcus Stroman to an opt-out, then sent Michael Wacha and now Steven Matz to the Injured List with shoulder woes, the Mets have raided their bullpen to draft Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo into the rotation alongside Jacob deGrom, Rick Porcello, and rookie David Peterson. Particularly with Dellin Betances joining the IL due to right lat tightness, the need for competent relief work became particularly acute, and the addition of Castro, a 25-year-old righty with a live arm, helps to remedy that. Castro’s two-seam fastball averages 97.7 mph and goes as high as 99; as Ben Clemens recently observed, when he’s facing lefties, he tends to use his changeup as a secondary pitch, while against righties, he goes to his slider as an alternative. The fastball is even more hittable than most, but the secondary pitches are very good.

While Castro, who debuted with the Blue Jays in 2015 but still has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining, got rather mediocre results in 2019 (4.66 ERA, 4.73 FIP in 73.1 innings), this year, he’s pitched markedly better (4.02 ERA, 3.71 FIP in 15.2 innings). His strikeout rate has spiked from 22.3% to 34.3%, while his walk rate has fallen from 12.8% to 7.1%; as a result, his K-BB% has nearly tripled, from 9.4% to 27.2%. His home run rate has climbed from 1.23 per nine to 1.72, but at the same time, his batted ball profile has taken on a different shape — harder contact but more grounders, and a ridiculous HR/FB rate:

Miguel Castro Batted Balls 2019-20
2019 1.44 48.8% 33.8% 14.3% 87.1 9.4 .303 .301
2020 2.00 55.0% 27.5% 27.3% 92.4 4.5 .331 .287
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

That HR/FB rate should regress as Castro escapes Camden Yards, where last year 23.3% of all fly balls became homers, compared to 19.7% at Citi Field; this year, the rates are 15.8% for Camden Yards and 11.9% for Citi Field. The bigger problem for Castro is that he’s got a sizable platoon split; though he’s held righties to a .253 wOBA this year and .286 for his career, lefties have hit him for a .530 wOBA this year (albeit in just 21 PA) and .360 for his career.

In exchange for Castro, the Mets gave up Kevin Smith, a 6-foot-5, 23-year-old righty who was the team’s seventh-round draft pick out of the University of Georgia in 2018. Last year, he split his season between High-A Port St. Lucie an Double-A Binghamton, posting a 3.15 ERA while striking out 27.2% of the hitters he faced. Updating Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel’s prospect writeup from January (when he placed 14th on the Mets’ list) with more recent notes from Longenhagen as well as other resources, Smith’s fastball has ticked up slightly over the course of the past two years, from 86-88 mph to 88-90. Despite the modest velocity, it has a good deal of spin (about 2,450 rpm) as well as an interesting blend of both horizontal and vertical movement and an odd approach angle. His slider flashes above average, and has been particularly tough on lefties, and his changeup grades out as average. “The intangibles seem to be driving the success here and the tools aren’t bad,” wrote Longenhagen and McDaniel. In all, it’s the profile of either a soft-tossing back-end starter or multi-inning reliever. For what it’s worth, both MLB Pipeline and Baseball America had Smith ninth in the system, slightly ahead of Peterson, a lefty who has posted a 3.51 ERA and 3.99 FIP through five starts with the Mets.

The deals for the 36-year-old Chirinos and the 34-year-old Frazier were apparently separate ones, completed about 10 minutes apart, each in exchange for a player to be named later — that is, likely a low-level minor leaguer not currently in the team’s 60-man pool — along with $360,000 cash to help cover Chirinos’ remaining salary. Without knowing the returns, we can’t fully analyze them, but at best they look like buy-low moves, as both incoming Mets have fallen on hard times at the plate. Chirinos has been battling a right ankle problem since July 13, when Scott Heineman collided with him at home plate during an intrasquad game; he recently returned from a 10-day stint on the IL. In 49 plate appearances, he’s hit an anemic .119/.224/.143, and he’s been mired in a 2-for-27 slump that dates back to August 4. His average exit velocity of 85.9 mph represents a 1.1 mph drop from last year; he has yet to barrel a single ball, and has just a .256 xwOBA.

The hope, of course, is that Chirinos can recapture some of the form that helped him hit .238/.347/.443 with 17 homers and a 113 wRC+ for the Astros last year; it was his fifth straight season with a wRC+ of at least 100 and his fifth out of six with double digits in homers. His defense has drawn mixed reviews via various metrics in that span. By Defensive Runs Saved, he was nine runs above average last year, but one below this year, while by Baseball Prospectus’ framing-inclusive metrics he was three runs above average last year and 0.6 below this year; by our framing-inclusive numbers, he was 2.7 runs above average last year but 0.2 below this year.

Chirinos will likely serve as the backup to Wilson Ramos, who himself has been something of a disappointment, hitting .241/.316/.345 (87 wRC+, 16 below his career mark) in 98 PA. The team is without both René Rivera, who suffered a hyperextended left elbow after playing just two games, then underwent season-ending surgery to remove a bone spur in the same joint, and Tomas Nido, who on August 25 was placed on the injured list for undisclosed reasons. With the Mets forced to play three doubleheaders to make up for their recent COVID-19 outbreak, 23-year-old rookie Ali Sánchez has helped to share the load by starting the nightcap in each one, but he’s inexperienced (21 games at Triple-A) and doesn’t project to be more than a glove-first backup.

Frazier, who totaled 3.4 WAR while spending 2018-19 with the Mets but left town this past winter despite hitting .251/.329/.443 (106 wRC+) with 21 homers last year, batted just .241/.322/.380 (84 wRC+) with two homers in 121 PA for the Rangers while making 15 starts apiece at first and third base. He’s likely to play more of the latter in New York given the presence of both Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith. While Jeff McNeil started nine of the team’s first 10 games at the hot corner, he’s since moved on to stretches at left field and second base. J.D. Davis had started 22 of the team’s last 23 games at third base before taking Monday off after being hit in the left hip by a pitch. Thus far, he’s hit .266/.377/.404 with four homers in 130 PA, down in the power department relative to last year’s .527 SLG but still good for a 121 wRC+. Frazier is the stronger defender, and though his 2019-20 numbers (-3.8 UZR and -4 DRS in 1027.1 innings) are down from his previous body of work, they’re miles ahead of Davis’ (-1.4 UZR and -13 DRS in just 397.1 innings).

Both Chirinos and Frazier are on one-year-plus option deals. Chirinos is making $5.75 million before proration, with a $6.5 million club option and a $1 million buyout for 2021; with Ramos on a $10 million club option for 2021, it’s possible they decide to go the cheaper route, particularly if they add another catcher from outside the organization over the winter. Frazier is making $3.5 million before proration, with a $5.75 million club option and $1.5 million buyout, though his future utility to the Mets is less clear given their depth at the corners.

In all, these aren’t world-beating moves by any stretch, but given the litany of injuries and absences, it’s not clear that higher-risk moves for short-term gain would have been the way to go. That all three players could have relevance to the 2021 Mets — as players around the margins, rather than centerpieces — at least makes the moves more worthwhile.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky

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David Klein
3 years ago

Really dislike trading Smith, who was the closest to major league ready starting pitching prospect as Brodie has decimated the upper levels of the farm pitching wise. Castro has pitched decently this year, but the hard hit rate is always high and he’s going to his 4th team already at age 25 and has a career 4.74 fip. Frazier is having his worst year of his career so far as is Chirnos and at ages 34 and 36 respectively it could conceivably be the end of the line for both. Frazier has really fallen off power wise the last few years and against righties, and Chirnos has been much worse than Ramos— I was hoping for the Mets toget Castro to platoon with Ramos, who has been bad vs righties this year and hasn’t been able to hit fastballs this year. I wish Brodie had stood pat honestly.

3 years ago
Reply to  David Klein

Given how many opportunities there have been (and will be, looks like!) in the rotation, it looks like the Mets either didn’t see Smith as a viable MLB arm or didn’t see him as close to ready. It’s entirely possible that they’re wrong, of course. Castro is supposed to have made some changes that have clicked for him this year, and he’s controllable for 2 more years, so maybe it will turn out fine.