While there was an unnecessary rumbling of community consternation about the potential of Alex Gordon getting traded to the Mets--a notion that was entirely speculative arising from Andy Martino's assumption that may the Royals have to trim payroll to absorb arbitration raises--the New York Mets would actually make a strong trade partner for the Royals this offseason.
Though Gordon is likely going nowhere, it is safe to assume is that the Mets will be looking to trade some of their embarrassment of riches in the starting pitching department. Logic would dictate that the Mets probably don't need the eight starting pitchers they currently have who hold the designation of being major-league-ready, so unlike in the aforementioned insubstantial trade rumor there is actual fuel to this fire.
A cursory look at the Mets' rotation shows a situation in which there will simply be too many arms for slots. As someone once said rather famously, "pitching is the currency of baseball."
In looking at the potential trade targets, it is important to consider the fact that the Mets are once again moving in the fences at Citi Field. Comically this is second time since Citi Field opened in 2009 that the organization will be making the park more conducive to actually being able to hang dong.
New York Post scribe Joel Sherman reports:
They plan to emphasize starters who rely heavily on strikeouts and groundballs — such as Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler. Which perhaps gives an indication of who they would like to trade this offseason, namely the more flyball-oriented Bartolo Colón and Dillon Gee, and maybe even Rafael Montero, who was at least flyball susceptible in his major league cameo.
Matt Harvey--who was arguably the top pitcher in baseball when he went down in 2013--was pitching off a mound as of September 15th and looks to be on schedule to break camp in the rotation to start 2014. He joins a rotation that currently includes Zack Wheeler, Jacob deGrom, Jonathan Niese, Dillon Gee, and Bartolo Colón with Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero ready and waiting in the wings.
Obviously Wheeler and deGrom slot into the rotation after Harvey. Wheeler has long been viewed as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball and threw 185.1 IP in New York this year, and deGrom stormed to the forefront of the National League Rookie of the Year race this season, a development no one foresaw as deGrom's development was stalled and delayed by Tommy John surgery in 2011.
A quick look at Niese's career GB% that sits at 49.1% all but ensures that he'll be slotted into that fourth slot behind the three young studs. He is under club control through the 2018 season with inexpensive buyouts for either of those final two seasons and fits the groundball profile to which they're hitching their wagon.
While batted-ball info for minor leaguers is harder to come by, Syndergaard's career Groundout/Airout in the minors is 1.38, which is comparable to Wheeler's 1.33 GO/AO in the minors. Given his repertoire, prospect status, and profile that at least appears to be precisely what the Mets are looking for, Syndergaard may as well have his spot etched into stone for a spot in the rotation, at least after cursory service time gaming has taken place.
Entering into just his second year of arbitration, Dillon Gee--whose GO/AO in the minors was 1.01 and has been 1.10 in the majors and whose GB/FB has settled in at 1.28 in his ML-career--at least marginally fits the profile that Sandy Alderson & Co. want and is cheap enough to fit in as a #6 starter for a team with young, cost-controlled arms fronting the rotation. While his $3.6MM salary in 2013 would stand to increase to somewhere in the neighborhood of $5.1MM per MLB Trade Rumors, that is probably a palatable figure for a team with their payroll flexibility.
These factors make it at least moderately unlikely that the Mets would elect to move Gee, at least without the sudden emergence of someone like 2009 second round draft pick Steven Matz or 2011 second round draft pick Cory Mazzoni as a probable contributor at the ML-level during an offseason in which neither will be logging innings against big leaguers.
Given their batted-ball profiles, this leaves Bartolo Colón and Rafael Montero on the outside looking in at a rotation that likely has no place for them.
Given those same batted-ball profiles, Colón and Montero would make tons of sense as trade targets for the Royals with their spacious confines and spectacular outfield defense.
Starting with Colón, his career GB/FB is 1.08. His career FB% is slightly higher than Gee's (38.6% to 35.5%), and his 2014 FB% was the 20th-highest of qualified starters. He may not be an extreme flyball pitcher, but given his $11MM salary in 2015 and his higher FB-rates, it doesn't take much to imagine Alderson moving Colón.
In a farm system that was about as good as the Royals' heading into the 2014 season, Montero was ranked #3 in the Mets org by Sickels and Baseball America and #4 by Baseball Prospectus. Sickels's grade handed to Montero was a B+ (borderline A-), while Jason Parks (R.I.P.) put his ceiling as a #3 starter with a more realistic role as a #4 starter. He was the 68th-ranked prospect in baseball by Baseball America heading into the 2014 season. Of course, Montero's development has basically been taken care of. He could most likely jump into a rotation in the bigs on Opening Day if pressed.
Where Colón's tendencies are a little neutral, Rafael Montero's are not. Montero's minor-league GO/AO mark was 0.75, which is more or less in line with his 0.77 mark in the majors. Obviously it is premature to make too much out of 44.1 IP at the ML-level, but his 44.4 FB% was 15th-highest of any starting pitcher with more than 40 IP. Of starting pitchers with at least 40 IP, his IFFB% was second-best at 16.7%. Again, making too much of those figures could be hazardous to one's health, but he's clearly prone to inducing flyballs. While 44.1 IP is not enough of a statistical sample to assume that anything has stabilized in Montero's profile, he clearly has shown a relatively consistent batted ball profile given the limitations inherent in minor-league batted-ball data. Matt Klaassen showed here that there is a strong year-to-year correlation on groundball and flyball rates.
Of course, Montero's 4.06 ERA, 5.16 FIP, 4.33 xFIP, and 4.32 SIERA don't exactly embolden someone trying to make a case for him, but the likelihood of Montero being able to outperform his peripherals with Kansas City's outfield backing him up is relatively strong. He may have suddenly shown a penchant for issuing free passes upon reaching the bigs--a development so unexpected as to lead Jeff Zimmerman to wonder aloud if he wasn't injured--but any development left in Montero's future should happen in the bigs.
In talking of trading for Bartolo Colón, the $11.0MM that he is due this season likely limits the return to the Mets to something relatively palatable for the team agreeing to trade for him. One year of a Colón who turns 42 on May 24th coming off a season in which he was worth 2.1 fWAR, 0.9 RA9-WAR, and 0.5 rWAR at that price tag would likely not require a ton in terms of prospects heading to New York. In his age-40 2013 season, he was worth 3.9 fWAR, 5.7 RA9-WAR, and 5.0 rWAR, and when taking into consideration that he threw at least 190.1 innings in each of the past two seasons, there is reason to take a chance on him even with the 50-game suspension served for PED use in 2012.
Obviously, Colón is not a complete salary dump; he has arguable value and was the subject of much rumored league-wide discussion from the end of July through August. Given his age and salary, however, there wouldn't appear to be many apt comparisons out there.
While Alderson appeared willing to eat some of Colón's contract in July, the Mets were also reported to want solid prospects in return. If the Royals were willing to take on the entirety of his 2014 salary, the return to the Mets would probably be something along the line of a couple of C-grade prospects (and thanks to Damian Schaab, Matt Klaassen, and Steve Schreiber for being trade value sounding boards). If there were compensation coming back to the Royals, that would likely sweeten the pot a bit for the Mets, the more money coming with Colón the better the package in return with the upper ends of what the compensation-to-upgrade-in-prospects probably being in the neighborhood of Christian Binford and maybe a throw-in.
As for Montero, the cost would be higher, as the Mets could just move the righty to the pen where his league-minimum salary still would fit just fine.
Photo credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
To give a sense as to what he might cost, it would probably be instructive to return to the Martino piece at the top of the page. Well, maybe not instructive, per se, but whatever. In that piece, he ballparked a deal for Alex Gordon as costing the Mets Daniel Murphy and Rafael Montero. In this spitballing scenario--and before the comments section gets overrun with nonsense, again, there is nothing about that rumor that is anything more than speculation--in which the Royals get a superfluous 2B/3B who could reasonably be expected to be worth somewhere in the neighborhood of 3.0 WAR and Montero for Gordon, Montero is essentially the difference between one year of Gordon and one of Murphy.
Of course, for a win-now team trading for Montero would likely cost a few legitimate prospects--at least one prospect upon whom many of our collective hopes are pinned in the Hunter Dozier, Sean Manaea, or Miguel Almonte vein--and/or one of the pieces at the back-end of the bullpen.
Given the Dayton Moore's stated intention to keep the combo of Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera in tact, a trade for Montero may end up costing the Royals more than they would prefer to pay while trying to maintain course. Meanwhile, acquiring Bartolo Colón would cost considerably less in terms of talent given up, essentially costing little more than money. Both would be viable options to fill out the rotation, and Montero would provide the Royals with a potential long-term option for spot in the rotation. With Brandon Finnegan, Sean Manaea, Kyle Zimmer, and Miguel Almonte presumed to be at least a year away from conceivably helping in the rotation and each of them being more uncertain to produce as a starter than Montero, the cost of his acquisition may well balance itself out with his performance as soon as this year.
Either way, Bartolo Colón or Rafael Montero make sense for the 2015 Royals given what they would cost the Royals.