In recent weeks, as the Mets’ starting rotation has been decimated by injuries, the team has turned to several young, unproven pitchers as fill-ins. To alleviate that, the Mets went out on Friday and made a deal for the oldest pitcher in the league.
Rich Hill, a 41-year-old soft-tossing lefty, is joining the Mets in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays. In return, the Mets are sending relief pitcher Tommy Hunter and minor-league catcher Matt Dyer to Tampa.
“He’s a guy that’s been around for years now,” manager Luis Rojas said of Hill, also mentioning that they haven’t had a chance to speak yet. “He has a lot of experience pitching good baseball, pitching playoff baseball. It’s a great fit and a great acquisition.” Rojas also said that the Mets do not have a concrete date yet for Hill’s first start.
A free agent at the end of the season, Hill signed with the Rays in February on a one-year deal worth $2.5 million. His addition will give the Mets four starters with playoff experience — six whenever Carlos Carrasco and Noah Syndergaard return — as Hill likely slots behind Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman and Taijuan Walker in the rotation. He’s started 12 postseason games dating back to 2007, including three in the World Series. Hill’s postseason ERA is a tidy 3.06 over 53 innings.
In 2015, Hill was playing in an independent league for the Long Island Ducks. His tenure in indy ball earned him another shot with the Red Sox, who let him walk after the 2012 season, and he has not looked back since. Hill has been a mainstay of the Athletics’, Dodgers’, Twins’ and Rays’ rotations since breaking back into the majors as a 35-year-old. His 3.16 ERA since 2016 ranks tenth among qualified starting pitchers.
Among pitchers who have thrown at least 300 four-seam fastballs this year, Hill’s has the second slowest average velocity. Chicago’s Kyle Hendricks has the only heater slower than Hill’s 88.3 mile per hour oxymoron. Hill’s best pitch for years, though, is a looping curveball. Bending in at an average of 72.1 miles per hour, the curveball has elicited a .192 batting average this season. It’s an effective pitch against both left-handed and right-handed hitters. Lefties are hitting .133, striking out eight times in 30 at-bats that ended with a visit from Uncle Charlie. Righties fare slightly better in the batting average department (.207) but have still punched out 26 times in 121 at-bats.
His slider is getting more usage this year, and it’s been on its best behavior for Hill. That pitch — thrown 4.7% of the time compared to the curveball’s 38.1% — is holding batters to an .067 average. No left-handed hitter has gotten a hit against it, and at a molasses-like pace, the leisurely slider offers an even slower look than the curveball.
When Hill puts on a Mets jersey, he will be the oldest player to do so since 38-year-old Rajai Davis in 2019. This marks the first time the Mets have had a player 40 or older on the roster since Bartolo Colon celebrated his 43rd birthday during the 2016 season. Hill is older than several members of the Mets’ coaching staff, including his 39-year-old manager and 35-year-old pitching coach Jeremy Hefner.
“We don’t have a guy like that here,” Rojas said, while disclosing that this won’t be the first time he’s managed a player that’s older than him. “We don’t have that veteran guy with experience like this that can bring different stories from different teams and has been in the playoffs multiple times. Age is just a number I think. I think it’s going to make the team better, make us better, and make me a better manager.”
Acting general manager Zack Scott was able to acquire Hill without giving up any of the Mets’ most cherished prospects. Dyer did not crack the Top 30 of the team’s prospect rankings on either MLB.com or FanGraphs. Dyer is a 23-year-old taken in the fourth round of the 2020 Draft out of the University of Arizona. He’s played 36 games in the Mets’ system at Single-A, hitting .194/.392/.452 while playing catcher, both corner infield spots and right field. Hunter is an aging journeyman who pitched in four games for the 2021 Mets. His greatest contribution to the club’s history was recording his first hit and later scoring a run in a 4-3 win over the Braves on May 18.
“Our front office is being diligent,” Rojas said. “We know one of our needs right now is starting pitching, and this is a guy that fits right in. We have people here who have connections with him. I’m looking forward to connecting with him.”
The move for Hill signals a proactive approach from the Mets toward the trade deadline, which is still a week away. The team could certainly add more pieces before then, but for now, they’ve addressed a pressing need on the mound without mortgaging any of their future.