Acquired RHP Merandy Gonzalez and OF-L Ricardo Cespedes from New York Mets in exchange for RHP A.J. Ramos. [7/28]
Gonzalez is the better prospect in the deal and he has a legit major-league arm, but his ultimate future lies in the pen, where he has a 10 percent shot of being, well, A.J. Ramos. His velocity is a bit down in 2017, sitting in the low 90s as opposed to the 93-95 he showed last summer. There’s not much in the way of physical projection left either, as he’s a stocky six foot.
His best secondary is his curve. It’s advanced for his age/level, but still shows an inconsistent shape. He’ll guide it a bit at times and it will be a slurvy, upper-70s thing, but when it’s going well, he can backdoor it or backfoot it to lefties with tight 11-5 break in the low 80s. The changeup is firm at present, and he struggles to turn it over, although it will flash some sink. There is enough stuff here to start through Double-A at least, but I expect his ultimate home is in the pen, and the breaking ball at present is not good enough to project an impact arm there.
Cespedes got a high-six-figure bonus out of the Dominican Republic in 2013. He’s grown off center field already at 19 years old, and while he shows some feel for the barrel, he struggles against better velocity and missed a chunk of 2017 with a leg injury. This is an upside flyer, but I don’t know how much upside is really left there. —Jeffrey Paternostro
Acquired RHP A.J. Ramos from Miami Marlins in exchange for RHP Merandy Gonzalez and OF-L Ricardo Cespedes. [7/28]
I suppose the first thing we should ask here is why?
The Mets aren’t a serious contender to make the playoffs in 2017, and are looking to deal away short-term assets in order to reload a farm system and brace for another run in 2018, when the team is healthier. Specifically, the Mets are looking to deal away one or two relief pitchers, depending on what the rumor mill is churning out about Addison Reed and Jerry Blevins at any given moment. But out-of-contention teams are supposed to trade away short-term relief assets at the deadline, not pick up yet another closer with just 1.5 years of control left.
I have to think the biggest reason “why” is this: Ramos came relatively cheaply. I previously hewed disappointed during the Mets’ last trade, lamenting the fact that pretty good first baseman Lucas Duda brought back an uninspiring return thanks to a flaccid market. Well, the market giveth, and the market taketh away. Ramos is a pretty good eighth- or ninth-inning arm, and the Mets only had to give up two not-so-sure prospects—both of whom might’ve slipped away during the Rule 5 draft this winter—in order to get him. If Ramos remains healthy and roughly as effective as he has been, the Mets should get a year of solid relief performance at perhaps slightly less than market value. And with the team’s lack of bullpen depth, that could make a lot of difference on a team with eyes on a Wild Card spot next season.
That’s the other aspect of this deal: the Mets need relief pitching, both in 2017 and 2018. This is a team that aspires to contention, and will require more of a bullpen consisting of Jeurys Familia, Blevins, and a prayer to get by. While 2017 may be a lost cause from a playoff standpoint, the last thing the team wants is to engender further embarrassment by blowing game after game in a post-Reed world. And by the time 2018 kicks off, this Mets team will have healthier starting pitchers and a wealth of hope and expectations. Having at least one more decent reliever to start the season will make a difference. And make no mistake, Ramos is a perfectly acceptable end-of-the-game option.
The difference between Reed’s contract and Ramos’ contract is approximately $1.2 million and one year of control; the difference between their performance is slightly more stark. While Reed spent 2016 as one of the game’s top-five relievers (1.97 ERA, 2.90 DRA), Ramos spent it as a decent end-of-the-bullpen arm (2.81 ERA, 3.06 DRA). While both psaw their overall performance regress a bit in 2017, Reed retains elite control (1.1 BB/9) where Ramos is still searching for the plate (5.0 BB/9). But BP’s DRA metric sees things very differently where an initial ERA or FIP check might indicate much better performance this year by Reed: Ramos’ 3.23 DRA is much better than Reed’s 5.01 DRA.
So in terms of performance to the end of the season, there’s a chance that Ramos may not be much of a downgrade over the team’s incumbent stopper. (In addition, Terry Collins has ridden Reed hard in the past two seasons, with 128 appearances to Ramos’ 107.) While Reed has the likely higher ceiling of the two pitchers, the short-term median performance might not be that different.
The Mets were supposed to trade away a closer, not acquire one. But come next deadline, there’s a pretty good chance the Mets will be in a similar position to the one they’re in right now. If they’re out of contention, they can deal a rental relief ace away and look toward the next season. Ramos likely wouldn’t bring back the return that Reed will, but that’s no big deal; they didn’t break the bank to bring him in. At the same time, if the Mets are healthy and contending—perhaps even true buyers at the mid-2018 deadline—they’ll have an experienced, talented hand to help shore up a bullpen that could certainly use it. Though the Mets may need to punt on this season, next year is far enough away to be alive with hope and potential. —Bryan Grosnick