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Mets sign righthander Sam McWilliams to major-league deal

Righthander Sam McWilliams of the Tampa Bay Rays

Righthander Sam McWilliams of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2020.  Credit: AP/John Bazemore

The Mets’ latest free-agent signing is a big one — literally if not financially.

Righthander Sam McWilliams, listed at 6-7 and 230 pounds, signed a one-year deal, the team announced Friday. It is a major-league deal, even though he has never pitched in the majors, which is unusual but not unprecedented.

The Mets are likely to try McWilliams, 25, as a reliever, a source said. The Tampa Bay Rays, boasting perhaps the deepest bullpen in baseball, put him in that role before spring training was shut down in March and included him in their 60-man player pool during the season. He features a fastball touching 99 mph, a high-spin slider and a changeup.

McWilliams comes with all of the team-control rights of a player who came up through the Mets’ own farm system, including three years in which he can be optioned to and called up from the minors and six total major-league seasons of team control. His 2021 salary, if he is in the majors, is $750,000, according to multiple reports.

His size, arsenal and controllability made him a low-key hot commodity in this early stage of the offseason. He drew offers from 15 teams, a source said, including multiple major-league offers in addition to the one he accepted from the Mets.

McWilliams is something of a minor-league journeyman. Drafted by the Phillies in the eighth round in 2014, he jumped to the Diamondbacks to the Rays to the Royals (via the Rule 5 draft) and back to the Rays. In 2019, his most recent in-game action, he had a 2.05 ERA in Double-A (15 games) and an 8.18 ERA in Triple-A (11 games). It was toward the end of 2019 that the Rays took a look at him in short relief.

Across six minor-league seasons, McWilliams has a 3.85 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in 109 games (94 starts).

This deal helps satisfy a certain, and obvious, organizational need: pitching depth. The Mets have a dearth of upper-minors talent, team president Sandy Alderson said last week. Less so now with McWilliams, who if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster can be stashed safely at Triple-A Syracuse.

"We need to shore up some positions," Alderson said. "Our pitching staff is thin, our depth at Double-A and Triple-A is thin or thinner, the bullpen has been inconsistent, we have needs behind the plate."

As his new team enters a new ownership era, McWilliams also becomes the answer to a trivia question: Who was the first player to receive and accept a major-league contract offer from Steve Cohen’s Mets?

Last week, Marcus Stroman signed a qualifying offer (one year, $18.9 million) extended by the previous regime.

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