In all of our past profiles, we’ve focused on Major League players that the Cubs could target in an effort to improve their club and qualify for the post-season. In this profile, we focus on Steven Matz, a left-handed pitching prospect for the New York Mets. Matz’s name has come up in rumors lately thanks to the perceived possible trade matchup of the Cubs and Mets that started to percolate last season. With the Mets badly needing a young shortstop and having a lot of young starting pitching depth and the Cubs having more than a few quality shortstop prospects, there could be a chance for the Cubs to acquire a pitcher like Matz. Let’s take a look at what it may take to make a deal.
So who is Steven Matz? Matz is a 6-foot-2 left-hander and a former second round draft pick out of high school. His fastball can top out at 96 mph and he has two other plus pitches in a change and a curve ball. Scouts feel he has good mechanics and a clean delivery, but his fastball can be flat and he can lose control of his change at times. Until the most recent prospect rankings came out, Matz was somewhat of an afterthought grouped among other pitching prospects like Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero. Things have changed though and many lists have Matz ranked at No. 2 behind Syndergaard.
Matz really opened eyes last season in a year split between High-A and Double-A where in 24 starts he pitched to a 10-9 record, 131 strikeouts in 140 innings, 2.25 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. The knock prior to last season was Matz’s durability level as he had Tommy John surgery in his first spring in 2010 and did not throw a professional pitch until 2012. However, over the past two full seasons, Matz has started 45 games and thrown for 246.1 innings with no additional injuries, so he’s likely back on track health wise.
This season, Matz has continued to thrive in the minors pitching to 2.19 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 9.4 K/9 in 14 starts so far and earned himself a call-up to the majors. He continued his dominance in his debut winning his start by pitching 7.2 innings while giving up two earned runs and striking out six. And Matz went 3-for-3 at the plate with four RBI.
Trades for pitching prospects with a pedigree like Matz’s have been in vogue lately as there is always a shortage of quality young pitching. However, most of the more recent deals have been multi-player swaps were it’s hard to get a real handle on the overall value of each specific player. There have been a few deals over the past couple of years where pitching prospects have been traded straight-up for one player and they include Andrew Heaney and Alex Meyer.
The trade for Heaney is the most recent of the deals and featured the Los Angeles Dodgers trading him to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for second baseman Howie Kendrick. Heaney was originally acquired in a mega-blockbuster deal with the Florida Marlins where he was considered one of their top three overall prospects and a top 30 prospect in all of baseball. Heaney, a left-hander like Matz also featured a career minor league 2.77 ERA and 9.1 K/9 innings in 259.2 innings and team control through 2020. Heaney’s fastball can touch 97 mph and he has a plus slider and decent change. Kendrick seems like a steep price to pay as one of the top 10 second baseman in the game, but the Angels were looking to shed the final year and $9.5 million of his salary.
Meyer was acquired by the Minnesota Twins in exchange for center fielder Denard Span who went to the Washington Nationals. The Nationals gained three years of control of Span and assumed all of his salary. Meyer was considered a top seven prospect in the Nationals system, but was one of their most recent first round picks at the time of the trade. In his lone season in the minors, Meyer posted a 2.86 ERA and a 9.7 K/9 in 129.1 innings. He easily became the top pitcher in the Twins system thanks to a sinking fastball that averaged 93-97 mph, a nasty slider and a change-up he was working to improve.
In both trades, the acquiring teams gave up above average Major League talent with a proven track record. With the front office possibly losing patience with Starlin Castro, he could become a trade chip if the Mets are interested in his services and assuming a lot of his roughly $41 million plus owed through 2019. The problem with Castro though is his stock is falling thanks to a weak .630 OPS so far and questions if he can even play defense adequately enough to play the position long term. His -7.2 UZR/150 rating so far at shortstop is not good and worse than the 3.5 rating Wilmer Flores has posted so far, who many consider to be among the worst at shortstop in the game. Even if the Cubs kick in some cash to sweeten the deal for Castro, a more likely scenario may include Javier Baez or Arismendy Alcantara and a solid starting pitching prospect like Pierce Johnson to offset the loss of Matz.
A young pitcher like Steven Matz almost seems like a dream scenario if the Cubs were able to pull off a deal for him, but with the Mets also looking to contend sooner rather than later, the fit might not be right for the Cubs to pull the trigger. Aside from Starlin Castro, the team really doesn’t have a surplus of quality Major League talent to trade from and may have to rely on overpaying with their collection of high quality prospects close to the majors. A pitcher like Matz may be the right kind of player to do so, but there’s no guarantee on how good he’s going to be at the Major League level in the long term.
Player Acquisition Cost Reports:
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- INF/OF Ben Zobrist
- RHP Jonathan Papelbon
- LHP Cole Hamels
- LHP Oliver Perez
- LHP Scott Kazmir
- RHP Sonny Gray
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