The early days of spring training haven't gone well for the New York Yankees. The club lost James Paxton to back surgery before camp even opened, then Luis Severino required Tommy John surgery and Giancarlo Stanton went down with a calf strain. Also, Aaron Judge . The 2019 injury bug has carried over to 2020.
, which is something every general manager says after their team suffers a significant injury in spring training. The free agent market has been picked clean and the trade market usually doesn't have much to offer in March. Teams with depth aren't eager to give it up before Opening Day even arrives.
Cashman is doing his due diligence, however, and Ken Davidoff and Mike Puma of the New York Post report the Yankees have reached out to the crosstown rival Mets about lefty Steven Matz. The Yankees have scouted the southpaw this spring. Here are more details from Davidoff and Puma:
With their sudden shortage of starting pitching, the Yankees have contacted the Mets about Matz's potential availability, according to industry sources. The Mets are willing to listen, but there is skepticism momentum for a deal will build this early in the calendar. The Yankees have scouted Matz this spring.
Among the reasons for skepticism a deal can be struck is the Mets would seek a major-league ready position player in return, as opposed to prospects. Miguel Andujar, given his ability to play multiple positions, would likely be a player of interest for the Mets. The belief is the Yankees aren't desperate enough for a pitcher to part with Andujar.
Matz, 28, is a native New Yorker and. After being dogged by injuries earlier in his career, Matz has stayed mostly healthy the last two years, during which he's pitched to a 4.09 ERA in 314 1/3 innings. His strikeout (22.7 percent) and ground ball (47.9 percent) rates are quite promising.
The Yankees expect Paxton back in May or June, and Domingo German will return from his domestic violence suspension in early June, so the club knows help coming. Matz is under team control through 2021, however, which is appealing. Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka will be free agents after this season, and Tommy John surgery will likely sideline Severino until the 2021 All-Star break. The Yankees need rotation help both short- and long-term.
Davidoff and Puma report there is "skepticism" a deal will take place -- SNY's Andy Martino adds there is "no reason" to expect talks to progress further -- and there are several reasons for that. Here are the three biggest:
1. The Mets don't have much rotation depth
On paper, the Mets have six starters for five spots. Matz and Wacha are competing for the No. 5 starter's spot behind back-to-back Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman, and Rick Porcello. That's a strong front three with upside, an innings-eating No. 4, and two intriguing candidates for the No. 5 spot.
After those six names, however, the depth chart thins out considerably. Here are the Mets' best rotation options behind the top six according to 2020 ZiPS projections:
but he has yet to pitch above Double-A, and counting on him to be your first option following an injury is not ideal. Lockett is out of minor-league options and may be lost on waivers at the end of spring training. No other starter in the system projects for even 0.5 WAR according to ZiPS.
The Mets expect to contend this season -- SportsLine puts the club's postseason odds at 38.0 percent -- and they're going need at least six starters to do that. Heck, they'll be lucky if they need only six. Twenty-six teams used at least 10 different starters in 2019. Injuries come with the territory and the more pitching depth you have, the better.
Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen wouldn't be doing his job if he didn't at least listen to trade offers for Matz or any of his pitchers. That said, depth is very important, and the Mets don't have much behind their top six starters. Matz may be competing for a rotation spot now, but it won't be long before an injury clears the way. That's baseball.
2. The Yankees are short on trade chips
More accurately, the Yankees are short on trade chips that will satisfy the Mets. Davidoff and Puma report the Met would seek an MLB-ready position player in return, something the Yankees don't really have to offer. Their best trade chips are high-end pitching prospects in Single-A, and trading an MLB pitcher for a prospect doesn't make sense for the contending Mets.
Consider the young position players the Yankees have at or near the MLB level:
- 3B/OF Miguel Andujar (age 25): Value way down following 2019 shoulder surgery.
- IF Thairo Estrada (age 24): Trade candidate, but also a bench candidate.
- OF Clint Frazier (age 25): Definite trade candidate.
- SS Gleyber Torres (age 23): Nope.
- IF Tyler Wade (age 25): Trade candidate, but the likely backup infielder.
With Gio Urshela entrenched at third base, Andujar is working out in the outfield (and at first base) this spring, and the early returns are promising. The thing is, Stanton is hurt and Judge has yet to appear in a Grapefruit League game due to his shoulder issue. You don't have to try too hard to see Andujar and Frazier starting in the corner outfield on Opening Day.
The Mets, meanwhile, do not need another corner outfielder. They're overloaded with corner outfielders at the moment, so much so that they are going to shoehorn Brandon Nimmo into center. Jeff McNeil and Pete Alonso are set on the infield corners, so Andujar doesn't fit there. The Mets could use a middle infielder more than anything and it's doubtful Estrada or Wade can pry Matz loose.
It doesn't appear the Yankees and Mets match up. The Yankees don't have the young position player depth to satisfy the Mets, and besides, it's doubtful they'll subtract from their MLB roster to add pitching. They're trying to win the World Series and would prefer to deal prospects. The Mets have little use for another corner outfielder (Frazier) and neither Wade nor Estrada moves the needle.
3. The Mets and Yankees rarely make trades
Only three times in the last 27 years have the Yankees and Mets gotten together for an actual player-for-player baseball trade. They have made smaller player-for-cash trades, things like that, but player-for-player? This it over the last 27 years:
- Dec. 2001: Robin Ventura for David Justice
- July 2003: Armando Benitez for Jason Anderson, Anderson Garcia, and a prospect
- Dec. 2014: Mike Stanton for Felix Heredia
Three years ago the Yankees offered the Mets multiple prospects for Jay Bruce, but the Mets went in another direction and sent him to the Indians. The two sides also worked on a Neil Walker trade to no avail. The Wilpons have a bit of an inferiority complex when it comes to the Yankees and they are not eager to help their crosstown rivals.
"Fred (Wilpon) is pissed every time the Yankees make a move. And he always seems surprised," a source told Puma back in Dec. 2017. "... He cares a lot about the Yankees."
My hunch is Van Wagenen would have no problem trading with Cashman (and vice versa) as along as he believes it makes his team better. Getting ownership-level approval? That may be a challenge. It has long been speculated the Wilpons would need to believe they're fleecing the Yankees to approve a trade sending an MLB player to the Bronx, and it's hard to see that happening.
A left-hander who gets ground balls and is under team control through 2021 is a great fit for a Yankees team that needs rotation help now, while Paxton and Severino are hurt and German is suspended, and also next year, after Paxton and Tanaka become free agents and while Severino is completing his Tommy John surgery rehab. You can understand why the Yankees checked in on Matz.
For the Mets though, keeping Matz makes sense given their inevitable in-season need for rotation depth, and the Yankees don't have the young MLB-ready position player to satisfy for their trade demands anyway. Matz for a corner outfielder (Frazier) doesn't make much sense given their roster. Throw in how infrequently these two clubs match up for a trade, and this seems like a trade rumor that will die on the spring training vine.