Lugo was primarily a starter throughout his minor-league career and into the early stages of his first big league tastes, but shifted mostly to the ’pen last year, to excellent results (3.17 FIP, 9.15 K/9, 2.49 BB/9). Despite his somewhat-advanced age, the 29-year-old Lugo has yet to hit arbitration and is still under team control for another four years, so he does represent an attractive trade chip for a Mets organization still in the midst of a major 25-man overhaul.
The data-hound Astros, of course, are always on the prowl for the latest edge, and may have found one in recent times with their stockpiling of spin-rate savants, viz. Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and, most recently, mid-season pickup Ryan Pressly, whose 3225 average RPM on the curveball ranked first among all big-league arms in 2018. Lugo, notably, placed second, with an average curve RPM of 3173, and has long been considered to have one of the game’s fiercest hammers. His fastball, though, has also earned excellent marks, with FanGraphs grading the pitch as easily plus in each of the hurler’s first three big league seasons.
Following the departure of Charlie Morton to Tampa Bay, and the near-term loss of righty Lance McCullers Jr. to Tommy John, the back end of the Houston rotation looks much thinner than in recent seasons; Collin McHugh will move back from the bullpen, and rookie Josh James looks poised for another spot, but the fifth and final position is, at current, entirely up for grabs, to say nothing of depth-related issues. Houston could look to deploy Lugo as a starter again in 2019, though his career numbers in that role (4.26 xFIP) are vastly inferior to those as a reliever (3.03 FIP, 0.55 HR/9 vs 1.23 HR/9 as a starter).
The bullpen, however, remains an unquestioned strength – returners Pressly, Hector Rondon, Will Harris, and Roberto Osuna all had excellent years in 2018, and former stalwarts Chris Devenski and Brad Peacock (13.36 K/9 in 63 1/3 IP) struggled only with the longball. Given the glut of right-handed arms, Lugo would seem a luxury here if not for the contract status of the unit’s pillars: each of Harris, Pressly, Peacock, Rondon, and the now-injured Joe Smith are entering their final years of club control, so perhaps the Astros are looking to make a preemptive strike.
The Mets have certainly solidified the back-end of the bullpen in recent days, what with the trade for Edwin Diaz and the signing of Jeurys Familia, but the rest of the unit seems mostly in shambles: Robert Gsellman, Drew Smith, and Paul Sewald round out the remainder of ’18’s top performers, and none of the trio had a particularly encouraging season. The club could certainly use a defensive-minded type in center field who isn’t a complete zero with the bat, though dealing from its weakest regiment wouldn’t seem to make much sense.
Carig does take care to note that New York is “doing background work” on the Astros’ minor-league system, and later notes that the talks are “wider-ranging,” so it does seem more pieces are potentially at play.