The Mets tweeted something that at first seems really boring. But it *might* mean something very exciting for a young hurler in the organization. One that isn’t quite yet a national name.
We agreed to pay Daisuke Matsuzaka $100,000 in order to retain his rights under his existing Minor League Uniform Player’s Contract.
— New York Mets (@Mets) March 25, 2014
At first glance, it’s a yawner. Except that Daisuke Matsuzaka is in a competition right now for the fifth starter spot in New York. In competition with Jenrry Mejia, who has so-so numbers in the minor leagues, can’t stay healthy and hasn’t been a top prospect for a while. That said, if Mejia wins the job with a good start this weekend in Montreal — that’s the final hurdle now that it’s easier for the Mets to retain Dice-K — he’s absolutely mixed-league relevant and a great final pitcher pickup.
Paying Matsuzaka $100k does not mean that Mejia has the job yet. But $100k is not nothing, and now the team knows it can keep the veteran for depth. Adam Rubin explained how this could be about the first week of the regular season, too:
But the $100,000 payment was not merely as simple as an opportunity to delay a rotation decision. It also can be viewed as an investment to carry an extra bench player for the first five games of the season.
If Jonathon Niese is unable to return from the disabled list for Game 6 of the season, the Mets would need both Mejia and Matsuzaka as starters. But Once Mejia is optioned to minor-league camp, he essentially cannot return the first 10 days of the season, so he could not step up and take that Niese start.
That seems to suggest the way is paved for the youngster if he keeps pitching well. It’s sort of silly that it’s coming to the last start of spring, considering how useless spring results are, but maybe the problem has been that Dice-K is pitching well (17 strikeouts, four walks in 18.2 innings) and the team could use depth.
Mejia has pitched well too, though. Well, maybe not *as* well. His ten strikeouts in 9.1 innings are great, but his five walks are a little troublesome. Especially since he walked 3.6 per nine across three minor league levels last year and has seen his walk rate oscillate. But ignore the small-sample stops at different levels, and his worst walk rates in the minors in a full year have been 3.6 last year and 3.7 when he was 19 and hit Double-A for the first time. A start with a walk or two may remind the team his command is not that terrible.
Part of the command problem might be that his fastball — the pitch that is thrown for strikes — has a lot of movement on it. The only real fastball he throws is a sinker, and it has seven inches of horizontal movement and almost four inches of vertical drop. His primary ‘fastball’ is his cutter, which has slider like drop — 4.5 inches is even a bigger drop than some sliders. That pitch hums along at 93 mph, and though it doesn’t get a ton of whiffs, it coaxes 61% of contact along the ground. His cutter is his sinker and, since his sinker got 17% whiffs last year, his sinker is his cutter. It’s okay, both pitches are good.
It’s the offspeed mix where Mejia has changed recently. He ditched his curve last year for a slider. The curve was almost exactly average (11% whiffs, 50% ground balls), but the slider has been revelatory (27% whiffs, 50% ground balls). That alone is a “sit up and take notice” moment, but in order to tell it like it is, you have to mention that his change-up was great all along (18% whiffs, 71% ground balls). For reference, the slider and the change normally get 15% whiffs and 50% ground balls. So, yeah.
Of course the problem with Mejia is obvious if you take a look at his minor league innings totals. Dude’s never managed more than the 108.2 innings he put together in 2012 across four levels. This is with five years of minor league play under his belt. Not even 110 innings. He had Tommy John surgery in 2011, he had elbow surgery this offsseason, and otherwise it’s just been a long list of ailing body parts.
So if you don’t have a ton of DL spots, he may end up back on your wire again. But when he’s in, he’s a man with four major league pitches — two of which seem superlative — pitching in a neutral park in a pitcher’s league. He’s got the upside to combine a strikeout per inning with a plus ground-ball rate, and that means he should be on your mixed league roster when he’s healthy and in the bigs. When he’s not, well, you banked what you got and you’ll have a hard choice to make.