Battle brewing for 2 spots in Mets' rotation

One of Matz, Porcello, Wacha to go to 'pen, provide starting depth

February 7th, 2020

NEW YORK -- In less than 24 hours at the Winter Meetings in December, the Mets struck a pair of deals for starting pitchers to provide rotation depth. Seeking to replace Zack Wheeler, who left via free agency, the team signed and to one-year contracts.

They were moves the Mets needed to make, understanding the type of rotation health they enjoyed in 2019 -- their top six arms started 154 of 162 games -- is rare. They also were moves that set up an intriguing camp battle. Entering Spring Training, the team has only two available spots for some combination of Porcello, Wacha and incumbent . On a club with no real position-player battles, the Mets’ rotation competition promises to provide significant March intrigue.

“I think it’s good,” Matz said. “It’s good to have depth. It’s a good situation for us to be in, so we’ll see how it pans out.”

Entering the offseason, the pitching-hungry Mets intended to pursue one of two strategies. Either they could bulk up on relievers, push and to the rotation and hope to build depth that way, or they could sign established starters while keeping their bullpen intact. Ultimately, the Mets chose the latter strategy, adding Porcello and Wacha to a mix that already featured , , and Matz. While Lugo and Gsellman will both stretch out as starters, neither are serious considerations for the Opening Day rotation.

“It’s definitely exciting,” deGrom said. “Anytime you have depth is a plus. There’s always times where somebody is going to be beat up and you need somebody to step in, and when you have six, seven guys with resumes like that, it’s definitely helpful. So I’m definitely excited to get those guys on board and I’m looking forward to getting to know them better.”

Because the Mets guaranteed Porcello $10 million, he appears to be a strong bet for one of the open rotation spots. Coming off a year in which he finished last among 61 qualified starting pitchers with a 5.52 ERA, Porcello has much to prove with his new team. But he is just four years removed from winning an American League Cy Young Award with the Red Sox, posting a 3.15 ERA that season. And he is durable, averaging 185 innings per year since breaking into the league in 2009.

Wacha boasts comparable upside but incomparable durability, losing significant time throughout his career to shoulder issues. His base salary is only $3 million, with another $7 million in incentives mostly geared around the number of games he starts. For both health and financial reasons, Wacha may need a strong spring to avoid an assignment to the bullpen.

The final competitor is Matz, who has shed his reputation as an injury-prone pitcher with consecutive 30-start seasons. Although Matz spent a brief period in the bullpen last season, he reeled off seven consecutive strong starts late in the year and is the Mets’ only left-handed rotation option. Matz said recently that no one from the team has talked to him about relieving, but that doesn’t mean the Mets will guarantee him a job heading into Spring Training.

“The last two seasons for me have been huge,” Matz said. “Being able to make 30 starts each season, you learn a lot every time you go out there. I do feel like I’ve grown and I’m learning. I had the most innings and most appearances of my career last year, so I’m just going to continue to take those steps forward.”

Like his new teammates, Matz understands a rotation competition is a good thing, not a bad one. Realistically, all of the Mets’ top six rotation options will start games in 2020, regardless of who breaks camp in the rotation.

“If you look at us from top to bottom, we could be really good,” Matz said. “You’ve got two Cy Young Award winners, however many All-Stars, and I think we’ll be right up there with the best rotations. So I think we’re all excited and have high expectations for ourselves.”