SAN DIEGO — Needing a replacement for Zack Wheeler, Brodie Van Wagenen is looking again to the group of players with which he is most familiar: his former agency.
The Mets agreed to a one-year contract with righthander Michael Wacha, pending a physical, a source said Wednesday. It’s for $3 million, with up to $7 million in performance-based incentives. Wacha is represented by CAA, the agency Van Wagenen ran until he was hired as the Mets’ general manager last fall.
Van Wagenen, hesitating to say too much since the deal isn’t final yet, said Wacha is the type of pitcher the Mets have been looking for.
“We look at Michael Wacha as a starting pitcher that’s slotted in and [will] have every opportunity to be in the rotation. If we were to sign him,” Van Wagenen said. “Depth starters are something that are important to us, as I said earlier this week. Pitchers with high-end upside that we potentially put in our fifth spot makes our team better. Pitchers like Michael Wacha are in that category.”
Wacha fills the vacancy created by Wheeler signing with the Phillies. The Mets frame it differently, though, viewing July trade acquisition Marcus Stroman the pre-replacement for Wheeler, which left them needing someone to take Jason Vargas’ No. 5 spot.
Adding Wacha rounds out the Mets’ penciled-in rotation along with Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Stroman and Steven Matz. That would allow the Mets to leave Seth Lugo — their best reliever the past two seasons — and Robert Gsellman in the bullpen, though Van Wagenen said both still will prepare this offseason to enter spring training as starting pitchers.
Wacha, 28, is coming off a down season with the Cardinals, the only professional organization he has ever known. He had a 4.76 ERA and 1.56 WHIP in 29 games (24 starts), considerably worse than his career 3.91 ERA and 1.33 WHIP, and lost his rotation spot twice.
In seven seasons, Wacha has not been a beacon of stability. His career-high innings total is 181 1 ⁄ 3 — in 2015, when he was an All-Star — and since 2014, his first full year in the majors, he has averaged about 24 starts and 134 innings per season. He missed about half of 2018 with an oblique injury.
Wacha left his final start of last season with a shoulder issue. The Cardinals did not use him in the playoffs, but manager Mike Shildt said Tuesday that Wacha was healthy.
“Somebody is going to get a steal with this guy,” Shildt said. “This guy is a good pitcher.”
Shildt, who managed Wacha in Double-A in 2012, his first professional season, is a big fan of the 6-6, 215-pound hurler.
“Michael Wacha is an absolute gladiator,” Shildt said. “Michael Wacha is that quiet guy that just gets it done and in the clubhouse has had a really positive impact on the growth, and he has a lot of residual value.
“Your value [in] what you’re doing to help grow others around you in the clubhouse is important, and Michael Wacha does that in spades. He does it in a professional setting. He’s a manager’s dream.”
Mets manager Carlos Beltran was teammates with Wacha in 2013, his rookie year.
Van Wagenen was not Wacha’s primary handler when with CAA but knows him better than most GMs do.
“He’s got championship makeup,” Van Wagenen said. “This is a guy that’s pitched in postseason games. This is a guy that has been in an All-Star Game. But there are other pitchers out there that we need to keep an eye on, too. But Michael Wacha fits a lot of categories we’re seeking.”
Michael Wacha’s career numbers for his seven seasons in St. Louis:
INNINGS 867 2⁄3