Lefthander Steven Matz is set to stay with the Mets for 2021, avoiding salary arbitration by agreeing to a $5.2 million contract, a source said Wednesday night.
After his disaster of an abbreviated 2020 season, Matz’s status was uncertain ahead of the 8 p.m. Wednesday deadline to offer, or tender, contracts to arbitration-eligible players. The Stony Brook native and former Ward Melville star can be penciled more confidently into the Mets’ rotation depth, where he is for now the third or fourth starter behind Jacob deGrom and Marcus Stroman and alongside David Peterson.
Outfielder Guillermo Heredia also avoided arbitration, agreeing to a deal worth a reported $1 million.
The Mets did not offer contracts to Paul Sewald, Chasen Shreve, Nick Tropeano and Ariel Jurado, who become free agents. Tropeano, a West Islip native who played at Stony Brook, was a Mets waiver claim in October by previous ownership/front office leadership.
The Mets tendered contracts to their other 10 arbitration-eligible players: Michael Conforto, Noah Syndergaard, Edwin Diaz, Brandon Nimmo, Seth Lugo, Dominic Smith, J.D. Davis, Amed Rosario, Miguel Castro and Robert Gsellman.
In keeping Matz, the Mets basically are betting that last season — a 9.68 ERA in nine games, plus an injury, in two months of a pandemic-induced bizarre baseball calendar — is an anomaly and that the true Matz is closer to his performance in 2015-19, when he had a 4.05 ERA and 1.30 WHIP.
Before 2020, Matz seemed to have turned a corner. He made 30 starts per year and mostly stayed off the injured list in each of 2018-19. In the second half of 2019 — a body of work about twice as large as the entire 2020 season — Matz had a 3.52 ERA.
In late October, in search of a fix, Matz got together with Phil Regan, the Mets’ senior advisor of pitching development, in Port St. Lucie, Florida. Regan was Matz’s pitching coach in St. Lucie in 2014, when he was establishing himself as a legitimate prospect post-Tommy John surgery, and in the second half of ’19, when he did some of his best work.
Regan felt that Matz’s career-best fastball velocity — 94.5 mph on average, 97 mph maximum — tricked Matz into being less careful.
"He told me because he was throwing so hard, he thought he could pitch up a lot more than he did in the past," Regan told Newsday last month. "I think as a result, he overthrew the ball a little bit and tried to throw the ball by guys. Even though you throw 97 mph, you gotta pitch. You gotta be able to hit those spots."
Although the Mets’ arbitration-eligible players have been offered contracts, they haven’t signed anything yet. That will happen in January and February after their 2021 salaries are determined through the arbitration process.
Also tendered contracts Wednesday were 14 Mets with fewer than three seasons of major-league service time — "pre-arbitration" players, since they are not yet eligible for arbitration. That bunch includes Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, Andres Gimenez and Peterson. They have effectively no say in their 2021 salaries and can agree to the figure presented by the team or be unilaterally re-upped by the club.
May pact finalized: The Mets made official their two-year, $15.5 million deal with righthanded reliever Trevor May on Wednesday. In the news release, the Mets noted that May was the valedictorian at his Washington high school in 2008, "produces house music as well as live DJs under several monikers" and is a video-game streamer on Twitch.tv, specializing in Fortnight.