The Mets and Angels pulled off a trade on Friday that will send Gary Matthews Jr. to the Mets for relief pitcher Brian Stokes. The Mets were nice enough to take Matthews off the Angels’ hands however the Angels were not willing to exchange one headache for another as the Mets still have Luis Castillo penciled in at second. It’s doubtful that Met fans are dancing in the streets after this acquisition and no one is looking at Matthews to be any more than a temporary band-aid until Carlos Beltran comes back.
For now, it’s presumed that Matthews will share centerfield duties with Angel Pagan and the fact that Mets’ management felt the need to make this deal addresses a couple of concerns: Either they are worried about Pagan’s health and/or ability to manage the full-time job in center or Beltran’s full recovery may be in question. The latter theory for conspiracy theorist will be discussed in just a little bit.
Let’s tackle the first concern about Angel Pagan and was this a deal that the Mets really needed to pull the trigger on? Matthews comes to New York with little financial risk. The Angels are thankfully picking up $21.5M of the remaining $24M left on his contract over the next two years. So that’s something to be happy about.
So what are the Mets getting with Matthews? To sum it up, they are getting an aging, 35 year-old outfielder who’s offensive and defensive skills have eroded over the past couple of years. The basic stats show that Matthews produced a slash line of .250/.336/.361 in ’09 with 4 SB’s in 360 plate appearances. Excuse the yawn. Looking a little deeper into the situation, we see that although he was able to produce a .336 OBP, Matthews’ weighted on-base average (wOBA) was only .313. That’s pretty awful. wOBA gives us a nice snapshot of Matthews ability to get on base, hit for average, slugging and his overall offensive success as a hitter which in this case, isn’t successful at all. Take into account that CitiField suppressed almost 7.5% more runs last season compared to Angel Stadium, doesn’t bode well for G-Matt.
On the other hand, Pagan, 28 years-old, has been a capable outfielder although he has struggled with health over the past couple of seasons (shoulder, groin). In ’09 he put together an offensive line of .306/.350/.487 with 14 SB’s in 376 plate appearances. It’s convenient that the plate appearances are almost exactly the same between Matthews and Pagan because we can compare apples to apples. Right off the bat (excuse the pun), it’s easy to see that Pagan was significantly more productive. Even Pagan’s wOBA of .358 is very good. It’s doubtful that Pagan will put up similar numbers this season as there will be some regression, but even the most conservative projections have Pagan with a 1.5 wins-over replacement (WAR) for 2010. Matthews ’09 season produced a WAR of -0.8 which means that Matthews’ production was below the average replacement player and more than 2 wins below conservative projections for Pagan.
Judging from the numbers, it seems that the Mets may have been just fine going with Pagan in center until Beltran comes back. Add into the equation that they lose a serviceable quad-A relief pitcher in Stokes and are on the hook for $2.5M of Matthews’ salary, one has to question if this deal was necessary.
So why was it done? This is where conspiracy theorists are invited to discuss. Maybe the Mets are concerned that Pagan won’t be able to stay off the DL. But Beltran is expected back in just one month; how difficult could it be for Pagan to stay healthy for one month? What if the Mets are more concerned with Beltran’s ability to come back 100% healthy? The lip service that Met fans are being given is that the surgery will allow Beltran to come back in better condition. But if Beltran continues to have issues with his knees, he may need to be shut down for the season. In this case, the Mets would need to rely heavily on Pagan which is where Matthews enters the scene. Matthews becomes more of a necessity under this scenario than just a temporary band-aid.
Here’s hoping that Pagan will only need to tend to centerfield duties for a month. He should provide solid coverage until then with Matthews playing the position on occasion. With luck, Beltran returns to the field quickly and in good health (knock on wood) and the red flags that the Matthews trade raises, are simply false alarms. Otherwise, the Mets and their fans will be praying and appropriately putting a lot of faith in a guy named Angel.