Mets, Wacha finalize one-year deal

December 16th, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- Entering the Winter Meetings, Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen's stated priority was to add starting pitching. And so the Mets struck on Wednesday on a one-year deal for free-agent starter , who will fill the vacancy at the back of their rotation.

The move, which the Mets announced officially on Friday, has ripple effects up and down their roster. Although the team still intends to have Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman stretch out as starting pitchers in Spring Training, Wacha is slated to be in the Opening Day rotation. That means assuming everyone is healthy, Lugo and Gsellman will reprise their previous roles out of the bullpen.

Wacha's $3 million deal includes up to $7 million in incentives, according to a source, mostly based upon how many games he starts. The Mets told Wacha they plan to reserve a rotation spot for him if he is healthy.

"He's got championship makeup," Van Wagenen said on Wednesday evening. "This is a guy that's pitched in postseason games. This is a guy that's been in an All-Star Game. … Michael Wacha fits into a lot of the categories we were seeking."

The Cardinals' first-round Draft pick in 2012, Wacha enjoyed stretches of excellence over seven seasons in St. Louis. From 2013-15, he was one of the Majors' brightest young pitchers, going 26-14 with a 3.21 ERA and earning '13 National League Championship Series MVP honors. Shoulder, oblique and knee issues sidelined Wacha at various points during his tenure, including a strained right shoulder that prematurely ended this past season in September. He finished 6-7 with a 4.76 ERA.

"The injury stuff, it has plagued me in the past, but I'm very confident in the work we've been putting in in the offseason, preparing me for this next season," Wacha said Friday on an introductory conference call. "It's going to be good and get me to full strength to where I'm healthy in Spring Training, healthy throughout the season and making starts."

The Mets are hopeful that their health and performance staff, which oversaw a five-man rotation that started 154 of their 162 games last season, can help Wacha stay healthy in 2020. They are also hopeful Wacha can provide other intangible benefits. Those around him paint the picture of a quiet but strong clubhouse presence.

"What you're doing to help grow others around you in the clubhouse is important, and Michael Wacha does that in spades," Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. "He does it in a professional setting. He's a manager's dream. Because he's a free agent, somebody is going to get a steal with this guy. This guy is a good pitcher."

In New York, Wacha joins a rotation featuring Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman, Steven Matz and Rick Porcello -- the latter of whom they also acquired this week. The Mets recently lost Zack Wheeler in free agency to the Phillies and, while they still intend to stretch Lugo and Gsellman out as starting pitchers, the additions of Wacha and Porcello allow them to put both back in the bullpen if everyone else is healthy. The Mets don't plan to use a six-man rotation, meaning Matz's starting job could be in jeopardy.

"I'm here to be in that rotation and be out there every fifth day," Wacha said. "And so that's my plan."

The Mets may yet acquire another reliever on a big league deal, but the contracts of Wacha and Porcello push them within a few million dollars of Major League Baseball's Competitive Balance Tax threshold. Although the team has not explicitly stated a desire to stay under the tax, the working industry assumption is that the Mets will.

That means if they want to continue adding pitching, the Mets will either need to keep the acquisitions modest or find ways to dump larger salaries like those of Jed Lowrie or Jeurys Familia. Offensively, the Mets appear content with their current roster, though they will remain "opportunistic" about catching and center-field upgrades.

Their main priority heading into the offseason was starting pitching. They feel they made significant strides on with their pending acquisition of Wacha.

"Depth starters are something that are important to us," Van Wagenen said. "Pitchers with high-end upside that we can potentially put in our fifth spot make our team better, and pitchers like Michael Wacha are in that category."