In a move that has been a long time coming, the New York Mets traded first baseman Ike Davis to the Pittsburgh Pirates for right-handed reliever Zack Thornton and a player to be named later, as reported by our own Chris Cotillo.
At first glance, the deal makes plenty of sense for the Pirates, for whom the first base position has been an undeniable weakness as of late. Manager Clint Hurdle now has an excellent opportunity to set up a platoon, with Davis, who owns a career .828 OPS against right-handers, being able to afford the luxury of avoiding left-handers. Meanwhile, he'll split time with Gaby Sanchez, who owns a .300/.399/.501 career slash line against left-handers.
The consensus appears to be that the Pirates acquired Davis for a relatively cheap price, especially considering he won't have to bat against left-handers–thus increasing his value to the Pirates tremendously. As Bucs Dugout's Charlie Wilmoth writes, simply replacing Travis Ishikawa, with whom Sanchez was platooning, might be worth the price:
This isn't an outcome I would have been thrilled about at the start of the offseason, but given that the Pirates headed into the season with Travis Ishikawa as their main first baseman against right-handed pitching, this trade (or something like it) was necessary. Ishikawa is already 30 and has no big-league track record to speak of. He's a nice enough depth piece, but a contending team shouldn't have him as their main first baseman, and it shouldn't have Gaby Sanchez hitting righties, either.
SB Nation's Steven Goldman also felt the Mets got the short end of the stick with the trade, writing "the deal feels like a giveaway," along with this passage:
In any case, the Mets didn't give up someone whose present value is very high, and appropriately they didn't get back much, at least insofar as we know -- they picked up a 26-year-old right-handed reliever with good control named Zack Thornton -- i.e. a specimen of baseball's most abundant crop, the generic right-handed reliever. There might also be something more: Jon Heyman hears the player to be named later "Is fairly significant." But, he adds in appropriately disappointed tones, "So there's that."
The "player to be named later" makes the deal inherently more interesting, but don't forget Thornton, a pitcher who Mets fans shouldn't overlook. The right-hander posted a .263 ERA between High-A (a notoriously difficult pitching environment), Double-A and Triple-A, and he's already off on the right foot this season with a 1.23 ERA in four appearances at Triple-A.
Thornton has never been considered a top prospect in the Pirates organization, but he's quietly put up solid numbers despite not possessing overpowering stuff. As Amazin' Avenue's Steve Sypa writes, Thornton's numbers aren't a product of his repertoire, which is decidedly average, but rather his deceptive motion and above-average ground-ball rate.
Despite posting the numbers that he has in his minor league career, Zack has surprisingly run-of-the-mill stuff. His fastball sits around 90 MPH, but doesn't get much faster. He compliments the pitch with a change-up that features roughly a 10 MPH differential from his fastball and a high 70 MPH slider. Because of the angle that he throws his pitches and because of natural sink that he imparts in his pitches, Thornton combines a fairly high strikeout rate with a roughly 50% groundball rate [sic] for his career. One of the likeliest sources of his success is how he throws the ball- across his body, from a low ¾ arm slot. The deception that that creates certainly can be among the primary reasons for his high strikeout rate, but he doesn't seem to be all smoke-and-mirrors; his control, low line-drive rate over the course of his career (14.7%), and ability to keep the ball in the park certainly do not stem from it.
There's also the issue of how the Davis trade will affect the Mets' first base situation, as it essentially leaves Lucas Duda with a clear cut path to the starting role. However, Josh Satin, who was solid in limited playing time last season (.279/.376/.405 slash line in 75 games), could give Duda a run for his money if he can pick it up following a lackluster start to the season.
Amazin' Avenue's Chris Strohmaier shared his thoughts on the matter, believing that more consistent playing time will be advantageous to Duda's overall level of production:
The move also makes Lucas Duda the every day [sic] starting first baseman. Both players have their pros and cons, and both fans and media have largely beat the debate to a pulp. At the end of the day, Duda proved to be the more consistent player, despite Ike Davis having a 32 home run season under his belt and being a generally better defensive player. The move should come as a mental relief to Duda, as well, since he's had to endure media questions and being shuffled in and out of the lineup for an extended period.
Mets fans might complain about the move, but in a sense, the deal worked out for all parties. For one, the Mets no longer have three first basemen on the roster, and they acquired an underrated relief pitcher who has spent extensive time at Triple-A, suggesting he's ready to make an impact in the majors if needed. Additionally, the Mets cut a chunk of salary by ridding themselves of Davis–$3.5 million this year, to be exact.
Meanwhile, the Pirates acquired a hitter who can drastically improve the team's struggles at first base, while Davis himself will leave the intense scrutiny he faced in New York. Upon close examination, this is a deal that makes sense all around.