PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- If the Mets had an obvious roster weakness heading into the opening days of Spring Training, it was their rotation. While that might seem counterintuitive for a bunch headlined by Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer, the Mets’ starting five was cluttered with concerns.
And so the front office made a necessary deal on Saturday evening, acquiring right-hander Chris Bassitt from the A’s for pitching prospects J.T. Ginn and Adam Oller. The trade brings in a pitcher who produced a 3.15 ERA over 27 starts last season in Oakland, though it comes at a cost: Ginn was one of the Mets’ two highest-ranked pitching prospects, and Bassitt is under team control only for this season.
"I got to see him a pretty good amount in the AL West," Mets general manager Billy Eppler said. "The pitchability, the ability to suppress hard contact, pound the strike zone, it sounds like no fear in him -- there's a lot of things. And then the person as a whole ... seemed like a guy that would fit here and relish the opportunity to pitch in this rotation."
A former 16th-round pick, the 33-year-old Bassitt did not enjoy sustained success in the Majors until after recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2018. Since then, Bassitt has gone 29-14 with a 3.23 ERA in 70 starts and seven relief appearances, with 396 strikeouts over 412 innings. His walk rate has declined every year since ’18, bottoming out at 2.23 per nine innings last season -- 10th-lowest in the American League among pitchers with at least 150 innings.
That, in effect, is who Bassitt is -- a control artist who excels at pitching to contact. Last year, Bassitt finished in the 88th percentile in hard-hit rate, according to Statcast data, demonstrating a skill set that helped make him an All-Star for the first time in his seven-year career. His campaign was interrupted on Aug. 17 when a line drive struck him on the head, but Bassitt underwent facial surgery and recovered in time to make two effective starts before the end of the season.
In New York, Bassitt should slot somewhere in the back half of the rotation alongside Taijuan Walker and Carlos Carrasco. The move will push David Peterson and Tylor Megill either to the Minors or the bullpen, assuming everyone else is healthy … which, of course, is no given. Chief among New York’s rotation concerns is deGrom, who has not pitched since last July due to ongoing elbow issues. Even assuming deGrom is fully healthy now, the Mets will tread carefully with their ace in an effort to keep him that way.
Scherzer, likewise, hasn’t pitched since he was unable to start Game 6 of the National League Championship Series for the Dodgers due to an “overcooked” right arm. He’s in fine shape entering spring, but he's 37 years old with more than 2,600 career innings on his arm. Those are yellow flags, if not red ones.
Carrasco made only 12 starts last year due to hamstring and elbow woes; he’ll be 35 on Opening Day. Walker spiraled in the second half, backing up his 2.66 ERA before the All-Star break with a 7.13 mark after it. Megill largely succeeded as a rookie but is coming off a concerning innings jump after not pitching at all in 2020. Peterson hasn’t pitched since foot surgery last July.
While Mets officials may be bullish on some if not all of those pitchers, they are also realistic about the group as a whole. Bassitt offers a better insurance policy than the Mets’ next level of depth, which includes Trevor Williams and Jordan Yamamoto.
So important did the Mets consider this type of deal that they were willing to part with Ginn, one of the centerpieces of their 2019 Draft strategy and the pitching prospect most likely to make a near-term impact on their rotation. They also gave up Oller, a former Minor League Rule 5 Draft pick who became a feel-good story last summer, breaking out as he made it to Triple-A Syracuse. But with free agents such as Carlos Rodón and Yusei Kikuchi flying off the board in recent days, trades -- even expensive ones -- represented the surest avenue for the Mets to improve.
That may not necessarily be the case with the Mets’ other area of significant need: lefty relief help. Andrew Chafin and Brad Hand are both still available on the open market, giving the team multiple potential options as it seeks to replace Aaron Loup, who signed with the Angels in November.
In that manner, the Mets aim to create a complete roster without holes. Their offense is mostly set, featuring plenty of top-line talent and, if anything, an excess of position players. Their bullpen is a piece or two away from where the Mets want it to be. And with Bassitt, their rotation is in far better shape than at the start of this weekend.
"We added another impact pitcher to the rotation," Eppler said. "It's something we wanted to do and talked about doing. We weren't able to answer it in free agency, and so you kind of have to look into both markets, and we were able to execute a deal and get something done fairly quickly with the A's."