After sitting out the first couple days of the winter meetings, the Mets struck twice in a 24-hour span, adding Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello on one-year deals. Both figure to slot into the rotation, addressing what was a thin part of the deth chart, but neither are particularly appealing at first glance.
Wacha’s 2019 was somewhere between bad and horrible. In 126.2 innings, he posted a 4.76 ERA and a 128.1 DRA-, accumulating -0.7 BWARP mostly as a starter. He also missed significant time with a shoulder injury, something that never bodes well for a pitcher. There’s some reason for optimism, however. Wacha was solid in 2018 and excellent in both 2015 and 2017, sandwiching a down 2016 in between. He’s been oft-injured and there’s probably a cumulative effect that’s left him slightly diminished, but as a fifth-starter upside play he makes plenty of sense.
At a $3 million price tag, with incentives for games started that could escalate the total value to $10 million, Wacha came at a relative bargain, and I was ready to give this move either a B or B+ when it was announced. The Mets should be looking at the Gerrit Cole’s of the world, or at the very least be considering options like Michael Pineda or Hyun-Jin Ryu, and their lack of interest in better options would have dinged the grade. Accepting the reality of the Mets’ budget, Wacha is a solid upside play, and certainly a more interesting gamble than some of the other bargain-tier starters available. More than anything, I breathed a sigh of relief that the Mets had done better than Rick Porcello.
Less than 24 hours later, the Mets signed Rick Porcello. While he’ll be marketed as a former Cy Young winner, Porcello has had a bumpy road since his award-winning 2016. He slipped back to being basically average in 2017, bounced back to ten percent better than league average in 2018, then cratered out to a 124.4 DRA- in 2019. He posted -0.5 BWARP in 174.3 innings, as his strikeouts dipped and his hits allowed soared. Worse yet, his GB% dipped to a career low 38.1%, a big red flag for a guy who has historically succeeded by limiting hard contact and keeping the ball on the ground.
Strangely, that change might have been intentional. Porcello threw his sinker less than ever in 2019, leaning more heavily on his four seam fastball. He also threw a ton more pitches up in the zone, as well as middle-middle. His sinker was less effective when he did throw it, as it sunk less (1.28 inches less drop) and came out slower (roughly 1 MPH) while running a bit more. The important question here is intent; did Porcello try to make a tweak to his pitch mix that didn’t work? Or did he lose his trademark sinker completely, necessitating more reliance on his less-effective pitches?
Unfortunately, my bet is on the latter. Porcello is only 30, but he debuted as a 20-year old and already has more than 2000 major league innings on his arm. His velocity and movement dipped across the board last year, and there’s no obvious mechanical flaw that could be corrected to rescue what he’s lost (release point stable, nothing I could see from watching videos from the past couple seasons). Porcello has been an every-other-year pitcher for the last half-decade, but I wonder if there’s just too much wear and tear on his arm at this point for him to be effective, particularly with the juiced ball.
Adding Porcello on top of Wacha also leads to questions about what the Mets are going to do next. The Mets were in need of starters this offseason, but adding two back-end free agent arms on guaranteed deals to Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman, and Steven Matz creates something of a logjam. deGrom is obviously going nowhere, and it’d be strange to trade Stroman only months after acquiring him. Brodie Van Waganen reiterated that Noah Syndergaard will not be traded as well, and there’s been no rumors regarding Steven Matz.
That probably means that Matz—an objectively better pitcher—will be forced out of the rotation, at least at the start of the season. Matz has had back-to-back 30 start seasons, but his health history is quite checkered, making any role change a bit concerning. His stuff should play up in the bullpen however, and the Mets need reinforcements out there as well. Still, it seems like the Mets could’ve used Porcello’s money to just sign a reliever—Will Harris, for instance—and kept the stronger starter in the rotation.
At the same time, building starting pitching depth from free agency is difficult due to playing time guaranteees, and perhaps this was the only way the Mets could flesh out a depth chart sorely in need of reinforcement. Even in this case, the Porcello move is questionable. Michael Pineda signed for the same AAV as Porcello and has been a much better pitcher recently. Homer Bailey was also much better last year and will sign for less, as will Jimmy Nelson, another solid bounceback candidate. On the other end of the spectrum, Porcello’s money would’ve covered most of Hyun-Jin Ryu’s presumptive AAV, or even Corey Kluber’s salary had the Mets been in on his laughably low acquisition cost.
Bottom line, I simply can’t get behind this signing. Building starting pitching depth is a big positive and something that’s been lacking in recent Met rosters, but epth isn’t particularly useful when it’s bad and entrenched in the rotation because it’s being paid $10 million. There were a myriad of better options, but the Mets went with a very predictable and bad fit that really doesn’t make them a whole lot better. I still like the Wacha gamble, which saves this grade a tad, but as a whole the Mets’ two major SP additions get a C when combined.