NEW YORK -- Entering this week, the Mets boasted an enviable top of the rotation but an uncertain back end. They made a significant move to change that equation Tuesday, acquiring left-hander Joey Lucchesi from the Padres as part of a three-team deal that was first reported on Monday night.
The deal, which sends catching prospect Endy Rodriguez to the Pirates, is a one-for-one swap from New York's perspective, though the actual transaction is much larger.
Lucchesi, 27, gives the Mets a young lefty capable of starting and relieving; the team intends to stretch him out in Spring Training, according to a person with knowledge of its thinking. He is under team control for four more seasons, will make close to the Major League minimum this year and has accessible Minor League options, making him a cheap, flexible roster piece for a club in need of precisely that.
The Mets also believe Lucchesi features plenty of upside, despite his issues in 2020. From '18-19, Lucchesi went 18-19 with a 4.14 ERA, striking out 303 batters in 293 2/3 innings. He struggled in two starts for San Diego early last summer, running into some rotten luck as he allowed a .542 batting average on balls in play despite a relative lack of hard contact. The Padres subsequently sent Lucchesi to their alternate training site, calling him back up for nothing more than an isolated relief appearance in September.
The situation is different in New York, where the Mets feature an accomplished front three in Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman and Carlos Carrasco, but questions after that. David Peterson is coming off a strong rookie season, but the Mets limited his workload as he battled left shoulder fatigue in August. Steven Matz struggled through injuries and poor performance throughout the season; the Mets will again stretch him out as a starter in Spring Training, but without any guarantees. Team officials have likewise not committed to the future of Seth Lugo, a standout reliever who remains something of an unknown commodity as a starter.
Lucchesi offers the Mets enough flexibility to bump any of those three from their rotation. He can battle alongside Peterson, Matz and possibly Lugo for a job this spring.
On paper, Lucchesi is a two-pitch pitcher who throws his fastball and changeup more than 90 percent of the time. But his changeup is actually one of the game’s most unique pitches -- a “churve” that he can shape like a curveball, a slider or a changeup when needed. The “churve,” which generated a 40.3 percent whiff rate from 2018-19, is a significant reason why Lucchesi showed marked improvement against right-handed batters in the latter of those two seasons.
For the Mets, the price to acquire Lucchesi fit that potential. Rodriguez was a $10,000 signing for the organization out of the Dominican Republic in 2018. While the athletic Rodriguez boasts plenty of potential at age 20, he has yet to play above Rookie ball and is blocked in the system by top-ranked catching prospect Francisco Alvarez. As one professional talent evaluator put it, “I’d trade [Rodriguez] every day of the week for a big league starter with four years of control.”
Another scout referred to Lucchesi as “a decent back-end starter,” which is exactly what the Mets needed in their current situation.
Given that the Mets and Padres have easily been the two most active teams in baseball this winter, it was perhaps only a matter of time before they dealt with each other. San Diego picked up the most accomplished player in the three-team, seven-player trade, shipping out four prospects for Musgrove. But New York also gained something of value. A team that has acquired Francisco Lindor, Carrasco, Trevor May and James McCann this winter, and that remains engaged with George Springer, Brad Hand and others, has not lost focus on the margins of its roster. Lucchesi is a prime example of exactly that, giving the Mets much-needed starting pitching depth at a reasonable price.