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Mets Acquire Phil Maton From Rays


Mets Acquire Phil Maton From Rays

The Mets have acquired right-hander Phil Maton from the Rays, per announcements from both clubs. The Rays will receive a player to be named later or cash considerations. Mets president of baseball operations David Stearns said the club is taking on all of Maton’s remaining salary, per Anthony DiComo of on X. The Mets designated left-hander Joey Lucchesi for assignment to get Maton onto their 40-man roster. The Rays recalled right-hander Manuel Rodríguez to take Maton’s place on their active roster.

Phil Maton Rays vertical

Maton, 31, signed with the Rays as a free agent in the offseason. The two sides agreed to a one-year deal with a $6.5MM guarantee, in the form of a $6.25MM salary and a $250K buyout on a $7.75MM club option for 2025.

Thus far, that deal hasn’t played out the way the Rays had hoped. Maton has tossed 35 1/3 innings, allowing 4.58 earned runs per nine. He has struck out just 19.7% of batters faced while giving out walks at an 11.8% clip. His 49.5% ground ball rate is strong but he’s also allowed six home runs on the year, a rate of 16.2% per fly ball.

That performance is significantly worse than what Maton provided in recent seasons. From 2020 through 2023, with Cleveland and Houston, he tossed 220 innings with a 3.93 ERA, 27.8% strikeout rate, 9.2% walk rate and 40.4% ground ball rate. He was also quite good at avoiding damage, with his average exit velocity being among the best in the league in his career.

The Mets are essentially buying low in this deal, getting a veteran reliever without giving up any prospect talent. Perhaps that will change if the PTBNL turns out to be a player of significance, but they may be effectively buying Maton.

The bullpen has been the biggest issue for the Mets this season. Their relievers have a collective 4.16 ERA, which is in the bottom half of the league. A couple of their better relievers have been lost to season-ending elbow surgeries, with Brooks Raley and Drew Smith both done for the year. Sean Reid-Foley and Shintaro Fujinami are also on the injured list due to shoulder issues.

Despite those bullpen struggles, the club has stayed in the playoff race. They are currently 44-45, just 2.5 games back of the Padres for the final Wild Card spot. It was reported last week that the club was going into the deadline with a buyer’s mentality and could focus on bullpen help, with this move fitting into that framing.

Obviously, the Mets will be banking on Maton’s struggles this year being a bit of a blip and he’s already shown some positive signs of a turnaround. After a four-run outing on June 9, he was sitting on an ERA of 6.56. But over the past month, he has only allowed one earned run in 12 innings, striking out 11 opponents while giving out just one walk. Even if he can’t fully maintain that level of dominance, it’s not unreasonable to expect something better than his season-long numbers.

For the Rays, they have been doing some modest selling of late, though nothing that would necessarily tank their chances of competing here in 2024. They flipped starter Aaron Civale to the Brewers, netting a prospect and some cost savings. But that didn’t really downgrade the rotation as they were able to call up Shane Baz to take Civale’s rotation spot. They are 44-46 and 5.5 games back in the playoff race, giving them a chance of climbing back into it.

Now they have been able to shed a bit more money, getting rid of a player that has largely been underperforming on the season, recent hot streak notwithstanding. The Rays are generally quite good at finding or developing relievers and Rodríguez could fill in for Maton, as he has a 2.79 ERA in the majors this year and a 1.09 mark in Triple-A.

Speaking of that money, the Mets will be taking on more than the Rays are saving, thanks to the competitive balance tax. Maton is still owed about $2.74MM on his salary, as well as the $250K buyout. The Rays will scrub that from their books but the Mets are a third-time CBT payor and well over the fourth and final tax threshold. That means they are paying a 110% tax on any additional spending, so will be actually paying around $6MM to get Maton on the club for the final few months of the season.

Under owner Steve Cohen, the Mets have been pretty unafraid of spending money and are once again flexing some financial muscle to upgrade the club. The Mets have been walking a fine line since about this time last year, looking to keep the big league club in contention without significantly harming the pipeline of young talent in the farm system and also trying to avoid adding long-term costs to their ledger. They still spent money in the offseason but limited themselves to short-term deals and this move is essentially a midseason version of that.

Joey Lucchesi Mets vertical

The cost is primarily financial but they also could lose Lucchesi. The lefty made one spot start for the big league club this year but has primarily been kept on optional assignment. He has made 15 Triple-A starts this year with a 4.20 earned run average, 17.9% strikeout rate, 9.7% walk rate and 53.6% ground ball rate.

Lucchesi is a decent depth option but he may have been on the road to getting squeezed off the roster anyway. He is in his final option year and will therefore be out of options next year. The Mets have also had improved rotation depth as the season has gone along. David Peterson and Kodai Senga each started the season on the injured list but Peterson has since returned and Senga recently started a rehab assignment. The Mets have also seen Christian Scott jump up from the minors and take hold of a rotation spot.

The current rotation consists of Scott, Peterson, Luis Severino, Jose Quintana and Sean Manaea, with Senga on his way back. José Buttó and Adrian Houser are currently in the big league bullpen but either could be considered rotation depth and the club also has Tylor Megill on optional assignment. That’s enough starting depth that the club is reportedly considering trading someone from that group while still trying to compete here in 2024, much like the Rays did with the aforementioned Civale deal.

Whether that comes to fruition or not, Lucchesi was largely buried in that rotation picture. The Mets have bumped him off the roster and will now have five days to see if they can work out a trade. DFA limbo can last for a week, but the waiver process takes 48 hours.

The lefty has some track record as a viable big league starter, as he posted an ERA just over 4.00 with the Padres in 2018 and 2019, logging 130 innings or more in both of those seasons. He then struggled in 2020 and got flipped to the Mets as part of the Joe Musgrove trade in January of 2021. He required Tommy John surgery that summer and missed most of the 2021-2022 seasons. He returned to the mound last year and his results were fairly comparable to this year. He was mostly kept on optional assignment and posted a 4.74 ERA in Triple-A.

Perhaps a club in need of some starting depth will take a flier on Lucchesi since he can be optioned for the remainder of this year and can also be retained beyond this season via arbitration. But as mentioned, he will be out of options next year and will have less roster flexibility going forward. If he were to clear waivers, he could reject an outright assignment by virtue of having more than three years of service time. But since he has less than five years, electing free agency would mean walking away from the rest of his $1.65MM salary. In that instance, he would likely accept an outright assignment and stick with the Mets as non-roster depth.

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