Steven Matz’s mixed Mets tenure came to a close Wednesday night with a trade that sent him north of the border.
The left-hander was shipped to the Blue Jays for three minor league prospects, the team announced. Matz was tendered a contract earlier in the offseason for $5.2 million but became expendable with the Mets’ recent pitching additions — which included another lefty, Joey Lucchesi from the Padres.
With the Mets also pursuing stud right-hander Trevor Bauer, the payroll deduction could also help in trying to keep the team under the luxury-tax threshold of $210 million, should they reach agreement with last year’s National League Cy Young award winner.
The Mets extended an offer to Bauer almost two weeks ago, according to a source, and have awaited his decision. The Dodgers and Angels have also been linked to Bauer, who figures to receive a deal north of $30 million annually. The Mets are believed to be offering Bauer at least four years, but also something far less than the eight years he was seeking. The offer could also include opt-outs.
But the Mets are also looking for a center-field upgrade and could use the payroll deduction on signing Jackie Bradley Jr., the top center-field option on the free-agent market. Such a move would shift Brandon Nimmo to left field, where he is better suited.
Matz, a 29-year-old Long Island native who was drafted and developed by the Mets, struggled last season and his potential role with the team was unclear with three weeks remaining before pitchers and catchers are scheduled for report to spring training.
Last season, Matz was demoted to the bullpen after struggling early and finished with a 9.68 ERA in nine appearances. He arrived to the major leagues during the 2015 season and helped the Mets reach the World Series as part of a heralded rotation that included Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and later Zack Wheeler.
But in subsequent seasons, Matz struggled to stay healthy and remain consistent. Overall he went 31-41 with a 4.35 ERA in six seasons for the Mets.
In the deal, the Mets acquired right-handed pitchers Sean Reid-Foley, Yennsy Diaz and Josh Winckowski. Diaz was the highest-ranked prospect of the group, rated 26th in Toronto’s farm system according to MLB Pipeline. The move comes as the Mets are looking to replenish their farm system — which has become depleted, particularly at the higher levels.
DeGrom, Carlos Carrasco and Marcus Stroman are set for rotation spots, with David Peterson, Lucchesi and Seth Lugo among the other possibilities as it presently stands. If the Mets were unsuccessful in landing Bauer, they could pivot toward the middle of the rotation, with an eye toward free agents Jake Odorizzi or James Paxton. Another factor is Syndergaard, whom the Mets hope will complete his rehab from Tommy John surgery by June to rejoin the rotation.
But signing Bauer would give the Mets a dynamic rotation that could compete with any in baseball, even before Syndergaard returns. Carrasco’s addition in the deal with Cleveland that also brought Francisco Lindor to the Mets and Stroman’s return on the qualifying offer strengthened a unit that was depleted by the end of last season, when the team was relying on free-agent disappointments Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha.
There is a sense within the industry that if the offers are close, Bauer will choose the Mets because of a desire to play in the largest market possible as he builds his brand.