Phil Maton acquired by Mets in exchange for Rays

NEW YORK — For the past two weeks or so, as he’s witnessed bullpen meltdown after bullpen meltdown, Mets president of baseball operations David Stearns has been working the phone. He spoke to the Rays about reliever Phil Maton earlier this month, but the sides couldn’t reach an agreement.

That changed with a phone call on Tuesday, when the Mets acquired Maton from the Rays to either name a player or cash out. In one conversation, a team clearly in need of help in the bullpen added a reliever, bolstering a shaky relief corps well ahead of the July 30 trade deadline.

It remains to be seen whether the Maton acquisition will go down as a primary part of New York’s Deadline strategy or an ancillary arm; even Stearns, when asked for his opinion, said he didn’t know. The only thing that’s clear is that Maton is a pitcher who can help the Mets right now, and that’s what Stearns found so attractive to them.

“It’s a piece that we think helps our bullpen and our team,” Stearns said before the Mets’ 7-5 win over the Nationals. “We’re going to continue to see what’s out there and make moves that might make sense for us, and we’re going to continue to learn more about our team over the next few weeks.”

Maton, 31, is in the midst of a lackluster season, posting a 4.58 ERA in 40 appearances for the Rays. But he’s been sharper of late, posting a 0.75 ERA in his last 11 outings, as he works through the control issues that plagued him early in the season.

Maton is an eight-year veteran with a 4.28 ERA. Some of his best work has come in the postseason, as Maton has allowed just two runs in 21 2/3 lifetime playoff innings for Cleveland and Houston. The Mets expect him to join their bullpen on Wednesday or Thursday.

“This is someone we targeted and talked to in the offseason,” Stearns said. “He was a very consistent reliever who pitched in a high-leverage environment in big games in Houston. He got off to a little rough start this year and we think some of the adjustments he’s made over the last month or so — throwing a few more strikes, making some usage adjustments — have led to better results and we’re happy to have him in our pen.”

When Maton arrives in Queens later this week, he’ll help bolster a group that lost Brooks Raley, Drew Smith and Nate Lavender to season-ending injuries, is battling another long-term injury to Sean Reid-Foley and has struggled to overcome Jake Diekman’s recent performance issues. The Mets entered Tuesday’s game ranked 16th in the majors with a 4.13 ERA out of the bullpen, but they’ve been near the bottom of the majors with a 9.41 ERA since early July.

Maton won’t solve all of that by himself, but he can certainly help. And he may not cost the Mets anything more than money. According to Stearns, the Mets will pick up the remainder of Maton’s $6.25 million salary, which is why the Rays, who value financial flexibility, were willing to let him go. The right-handed pitcher’s deal includes a $7.75 million team option for 2025 with a $250,000 buyout.

“He’s an experienced arm who’s pitched in the back end of bullpens in big games,” Stearns said. “He’s shown that with his arsenal of stuff, he’s got a knack for attacking two-handed hitters, so we’re excited to bring him in.”

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