The Mets recently made some moves to address holes in their roster. They have long been in need of a true center fielder, and they needed pitching depth. The recent acquisitions of Jake Marisnick, Michael Wacha, and Rick Porcello help in that respect, but far from ideally.
Michael Conforto is good in a corner but can’t play center, and even if Brandon Nimmo could be relied on to take the field everyday, he appears to be below average defensively out there. Of course there is Juan Lagares, who used to be a defensive wizard out there but no longer, and even if he still was, he just can’t hit, having slashed .213/.279/.326 in 285 PA last year. The Mets tried filling that void with Keon Broxton last season, but the less said about that experiment the better.
Marisnick, on the other hand, is a strong defensive center fielder who can add some value on the basepaths, though he can’t hit much. Last year he hit .233/.289/.411 in 318 PA, which is only an 86 wRC+. That is still a lot better than Lagares, and he might be a 1.5 to 2-win upgrade over him. The Mets only have him for one year, but they only had to part with a couple of low level prospects to get him. They benefited from having more leverage than the Astros because they were eager to unload him due to a roster crunch.
This is one instance where it is fair not to criticize the Mets for refusing to spend (I never thought I’d say that), because the free agent market for center fielders were slim pickings. Kevin Pillar is available, but his once stellar defense is not what it used to be, and he is not much better of a hitter than Marisnick.
Losing Zack Wheeler was a blow to the Mets, made even worse by the fact that he joined the division rival Phillies. Back-to-back Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom is still in New York, and so is Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman. Amazingly, Steven Matz has made 30 starts in consecutive seasons with a 4.58 RA9 in that span and mediocre peripherals. He is a fine back-end starter for now, but health is always a concern with him. There was not much beyond that, though, so the Mets needed some pitching depth.
Michael Wacha signed a cheap one-year deal with the Mets worth $3 million, and it can go up to $10 million with incentives. The team is buying low on a pitcher who had a 5.04 RA9 last season, likely in hopes that he can be closer to the 3.84 RA9 pitcher he was in 2018. However, over the past two seasons he has a strikeout rate below 20 percent and walk rate of about 10 percent. You really don’t want a pitcher who can’t strike people out in front of that Mets’ defense.
It is possible that Wacha was struggling with injury last year, so it could be a good buy-low deal that will easily pay off if he can shave a run off his 2019 RA9. Worst case scenario, he gets demoted to the bullpen.
My fellow New Jersey native Rick Porcello is joining the team he rooted for as a kid for one year and $10 million. The Mets are bringing aboard someone who had the highest RA9 in the majors last year among qualified pitchers—that is just so Mets.
Porcello’s 5.89 RA9 is certainly pretty bad, but he did pitch in hitters’ parks against some strong competition, so he did crack 1 WAR. That being said, he had a 6.06 DRA and was below replacement level at Baseball Prospectus. He continued to display the strong control he is known for, but his strikeout rate fell below 19 percent.
That might not make this look like such a good signing even for just one year, but Steamer projections actually have him as an average pitcher next year. I imagine that such a projection must come with pretty wider error bars, though, because Porcello has been terribly inconsistent from year to year. Again, I am concerned about bringing in a low strikeout pitcher in front of this defense, but hopefully pitching in a bigger ballpark will help bring the home runs down, even if ball does not get dejuiced.
Wacha and Porcello might pan out pretty well, but if they don’t, the Mets will be left scrambling to fill that starting rotation depth. My big problem with these acquisitions is that they seem designed to maximize $/WAR instead of just maximizing wins, which is what all competitive teams should be doing.
The NL East is too competitive to not be making moves with a high probability of success. The Phillies got better by signing the Mets’ own pitcher in Zack Wheeler, and the Nationals brought back Stephen Strasburg, meaning two of the best three free agent pitchers are on divisional rivals. They missed out on Gerrit Cole, but even I will not criticize the Mets for not wanting to spend over $300 million on a pitcher, even though he is completely worth it.
Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-Jin Ryu are still available for just money, though the signings of Wacha and Porcello likely indicate that they are not interested in them, or should I say, not interested in paying them. Those extra wins can make all the difference in the world in this division, and the Mets are once again in danger of missing the playoffs due to the owners’ perennial cheapness.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.