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Mets acquire Rays left-hander Rich Hill in three-player deal

Entering this homestand, the Mets’ rotation was tattered enough that team officials did not know how they would get through the weekend. Injuries to Jacob deGrom, Carlos Carrasco, Noah Syndergaard, David Peterson, Joey Lucchesi and Jordan Yamamoto had devastated the organization’s starting depth. While the Mets had planned to be active in the starting pitching market leading up to the July 30 Deadline, they were also cognizant that they needed to get there, first.

Enter Rich Hill. The team on Friday acquired the 41-year-old left-hander for reliever Tommy Hunter and catching prospect Matt Dyer, giving themselves a plug-and-play rotation option who can start as soon as Sunday. What’s more, Hill offers the promises of veteran leadership, significant playoff experience, and perhaps even versatility if the Mets choose to use him in alternative roles down the stretch.

Mets get: LHP Rich Hill
Rays get: RHP Tommy Hunter, Minor League C Matt Dyer

“A lot of people in the game know the name,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said. “It’s a great fit, a great acquisition. Our front office is being diligent. We’ve talked about our starting pitching need. This is a guy that fits right in.”

Mets officials planned to wait until Hill arrived at Citi Field before deciding when to pencil him in for a start, but the lefty will almost certainly debut by Monday at the latest. Hill had been scheduled to start Saturday for the Rays, and the Mets have rotation holes on both Sunday and Monday.

“I’m just really, really excited to get to know Rich,” Rojas said. “I can’t wait for him to get here and then see when he’s going to be available wearing a Mets uniform, pitching out there. It’s great that we’re in a homestand, and it will be awesome that he pitches here, in front of the fans. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”

Overall this season, Hill is 6-4 with a 3.87 ERA and 91 strikeouts over 95 1/3 innings, though he owns a 5.40 mark in his last seven starts. The left-hander has pitched to a 3.80 ERA over 17 big league seasons, with significant recent postseason experience. In seven career NLCS and World Series appearances for the Dodgers, all over the past five years, Hill owns a 1.41 ERA.

“Age is just a number, right?” said Rojas, who is two years younger than his newest player. “He’s a great pitcher.”

It remains to be seen if Hill would be part of a potential Mets postseason rotation or perhaps a bullpen option; they acquired him more with an eye toward getting to October, considering deGrom, Carrasco, Syndergaard, Peterson, Lucchesi and others all remain sidelined. Carrasco could return this month, but the Mets aren’t thrilled with the idea of rushing him back from the IL following a rough second rehab outing. deGrom’s status remains day-to-day. Peterson is not due back until August; Syndergaard not until September; Lucchesi not at all this year.

The Rays found themselves battling the opposite problem, with too many starting pitchers for too few slots. Tampa Bay recently called up Luis Patiño from the Minors and is looking forward to Chris Archer’s return. That made Hill expendable, allowing the Rays to — somewhat unconventionally — deal away a productive veteran despite their status as contenders.

“Something was going to have to give from our group,” Rays general manager Erik Neander said. “We think the world of Rich. He’s going to give the Mets, I think, exactly what they need.”

The Mets are helping Tampa Bay by taking on what’s left of Hill’s $2.5 million salary. To offset some of that, the Rays agreed to acquire Hunter, a veteran who has spent most of the year on the 60-day IL battling back problems. They also acquired Dyer, a 23-year-old catcher who was the Mets’ fourth-round Draft pick in 2020.

If there is a downside to Hill, it’s that he has struggled recently while experiencing a notable spin-rate drop on both his four-seam fastball and signature curve. One source suspected the Rays were close to designating Hill for assignment given their pitching crunch, which is why the Mets were able to acquire him so cheaply.

Despite those drawbacks, the deal was an obvious one for the pitching-starved Mets. It shouldn’t preclude future trades for pitchers over the next week. And on top of everything, Hill offers the Mets another strong veteran presence in a clubhouse full of players who have lauded their team chemistry all summer.

“He’s going to walk off the mound with literally nothing left every single time,” said Mets reliever Trevor May, Hill’s teammate last season in Minnesota. “That’s something that, as a team, I think that’s a pretty good representation of the Mets this year. His whole thing is very much our whole thing.”