NEW YORK -- Sitting in fourth place, five games below .500, with less than a month left in the regular season, the Mets do not know if they will rally with enough ferocity to make the playoffs. But they’re going to try.
The team made a trio of deals in the minutes leading up to Monday’s Trade Deadline, acquiring veteran hitters Todd Frazier and Robinson Chirinos in trades with the Rangers, as well as reliever Miguel Castro from the Orioles. The Mets will send a pair of players to be named later to Texas, while the club traded left-hander Kevin Smith, its No. 12 prospect, and a player to be named or cash to Baltimore. By rule, players not in a team’s 60-player pool could only be traded as players to be named later.
METS-RANGERS TRADE BREAKDOWNS
Mets get: Robinson Chirinos, cash
Rangers get: PTBNL
Mets get: Todd Frazier
Rangers get: PTBNL
METS-ORIOLES TRADE BREAKDOWN
Mets get: RHP Miguel Castro
Orioles get: LHP Kevin Smith (Mets' No. 12 prospect), PTBNL or cash
“We wanted to make sure that we were looking, in a way, to continue to keep our business model in place, which is contend right now and also not lose sight of what the short-term and long-term future is for the organization,” general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said. “We weren’t motivated to move from the top of our prospect system, but we also wanted to show this team, and show this market, that we are far from quitting on the season.”
In so doing, the Mets made three separate deals to shore up the margins of their roster. Frazier, who started at third base for the Mets from 2018-19, offers the team punch off the bench. Chirinos gives the Mets catching depth behind starter Wilson Ramos. Castro can deliver late-game bullpen upside.
Frazier was batting .241 with two homers and a .702 OPS for the Rangers, but those numbers included a .343/.425/.514 slash line against left-handed pitchers. Van Wagenen said he envisions Frazier serving as a reserve who is capable of pinch-hitting against lefty relievers, as well as starting on occasion at first base, third base or designated hitter. The GM also went out of his way to praise Frazier’s reputation as a popular teammate.
“He’s always welcome here in the clubhouse,” Mets first baseman Pete Alonso said of Frazier, who left the Mets as a free agent following last season.
Despite batting .119 with a .367 OPS for the Rangers, Chirinos is one year removed from a 17-homer season for the Astros. Van Wagenen pointed to the catcher’s track record of above-average hitting -- he posted a 106 OPS+ from 2016-19 -- as evidence of his value, as well as a .161 batting average on balls in play that has plenty of room to rise. However, that comes with a hard-hit rate of just 25.8 percent, easily the lowest of Chirinos’ career.
“I think there’s some correction that can happen,” Van Wagenen said of Chirinos. “He’s had a history of it.”
In Flushing, Chirinos can serve as a backup to Ramos with the Mets’ second and third catchers, Tomás Nido and René Rivera, both on the injured list. Both Chirinos and Frazier have team options for 2021, though it’s far from a given that the Mets will exercise them.
For those seeking upside, the most intriguing player the Mets acquired was clearly Castro, a 25-year-old Dominican reliever averaging 98 mph on his sinker this season. Already in his sixth big league season, Castro has struck out 24 batters in 15 2/3 innings, while walking just five. He has showcased increased movement on his slider, and he has learned how to tunnel his changeup and his sinker to make them look near-identical out of his hand.
That could be crucial for a Mets bullpen currently operating without Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman (both in the rotation) and Dellin Betances (on the IL). In addition, back-end arms Edwin Díaz, Jeurys Familia and Justin Wilson have all proven inconsistent; it would not take much for Castro to assume an important role in manager Luis Rojas’ bullpen.
“I’m a big fan of Miguel Castro as a person, as well,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “Love the guy. He’s been improving ever since I’ve seen him pitch and was putting together a nice year this year. It was tough to say goodbye to him during the game.”
Most importantly, Castro is under team control through 2022, making him valuable to the Mets even if they miss the playoffs.
“We think Castro has a high ceiling,” Van Wagenen said. “At the end of the day, we felt like getting the upside for a here-now bullpen arm that can help us not only now, but also going forward, it was something that we needed to do.”
For the Mets, the price was steep, considering Smith was their 12th-ranked prospect and 2019 organizational Player of the Year, after posting a 3.15 ERA over 23 starts last season between Double-A Binghamton and Class A St. Lucie. Smith struck out 130 batters over 117 innings, and he could have contributed to the Mets as soon as this year. He had also taken on added importance within the organization, considering that over the past 18 months, New York has traded away starting prospects Justin Dunn, Anthony Kay, Simeon Woods Richardson and Jordan Humphreys.
But the Mets questioned his ceiling as a big league starter, and despite their 2020 struggles, still believe they are in contention to grab one of the National League’s eight playoff spots. They were willing to make a long-term sacrifice for the chance to compete.
“We wanted to give our team some additional help,” Van Wagenen said. “We’re not playing great baseball right now, and we need to boost ourselves. We think these players can give us that opportunity.”