The Mets and Giants made a minor trade on Tuesday as the deadline approached, with first baseman/designated hitter Darin Ruf heading to New York in exchange for third baseman-ish/designated hitter J.D. Davis. Three minor league pitchers — Thomas Szapucki, Nick Zwack, and Carson Seymour — are joining Davis in San Francisco.
After thriving in a platoon role in 2020 and ’21, Ruf has struggled this year, hitting .216/.328/.378, though still with a robust .886 OPS against lefties. Davis has performed similarly, hitting .238/.324/.359, but without the beneficial platoon split. The two hitters involved in this trade are both right-handed DH-types who have broadly similar value on the surface, but there are differences in their two profiles that matter enough for teams on two very different 2022 trajectories to make this trade.
Ruf is the easier player to utilize, thanks to large platoon splits that Davis has not historically possessed. The Giants attempted to expand his role this season, giving him more starts against righties (34) than he had combined in 2020 and ’21 (24), and while his true platoon split is likely smaller than the 316 points of OPS it is this season, he’s definitely a player who needs to be used carefully when not possessing the handedness advantage. The Mets clearly value Ruf’s ability to be a top-notch accomplice to Daniel Vogelbach at DH, given that they’re sending some minor league extras along as sweetener.
ZiPS Projection – Darin Ruf
Zwack is a 2021 draftee having a good first full season in the minors. A low-90s sinker isn’t going to wow anyone these days, but he’s had enough success in A-ball that he’s worth checking in on to see if he can surpass that Double-A wall that can stymie lower-grade pitching prospects. Szapucki is a better-known name, spending the last two seasons in Triple-A and with two unfortunately unforgettable appearances in the majors so far. I’m not convinced that he won’t have a future as a fifth starter in the majors. One has to remember that, unlike in the majors, minor league offense has exploded rather than evaporated, so Szapucki’s decent performance in the high minors makes him worth a flyer. Seymour doesn’t get a lot of press in the scouting world, and while he’s got solid velocity — certainly better than Zwack or Szapucki — he lacks consistent secondary pitches. His debut has been very good, but I wouldn’t take it too seriously; 23-year-olds ought to be pitching quite well against A-ball hitters.
ZiPS Projection – Thomas Szapucki
Without an exploitable platoon split, Davis is a difficult player to find playing time for when things aren’t going well. But with the Giants rapidly drifting out of the playoff picture, a few interesting minor league names and a reduction of guaranteed money is worth the differences between him and Ruf. Davis has struggled this season, but he still hits the ball hard — average exit velocity of 93.3 mph — and he did hit .288/.373/.472 from 2019 to ’21. The Mets are trying to hold off the Braves, so there’s not a lot of interest in being patient and hoping he figures things out this season. San Francisco does have this luxury, and should they tender him a contract this winter, they have two more years to see if he can be a full-time DH. Davis also comes with the alleged ability to play third base, but in truth, this part of his skill set is best deployed in emergencies. In other words, if the Giants are looking for a possible successor to Evan Longoria at third, well, they’re still looking for one.
ZiPS Projection – J.D. Davis
In the end, this trade is a good match of wants and needs for both teams. The Mets wanted a lefty-masher with more certainty, and the Giants wanted to get good value for a veteran role player. That’s just what happened.