PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Michael Wacha’s arrival Sunday made it official: The entire Mets rotation, a key — and perhaps the key — to a successful season, is here.
Two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom has made appearances, commuting from his central Florida home every couple of days. An often-shirtless Noah Syndergaard already is a few bullpen sessions deep into his spring training. Marcus Stroman showed up Saturday and Sunday to play catch and go through his warmup routine. Steven Matz and newcomer Rick Porcello also have visited and worked out in recent days.
And now the righthanded Wacha, 28, made that group of six complete on day negative-1 of spring training, before pitchers and catchers officially report on Monday.
“This staff is unbelievable,” Wacha said. “We got arms for days.”
Which of those arms is the odd man out come Opening Day is to be decided. Of the few job competitions in Mets camp this year, that probably is the most interesting.
DeGrom and Syndergaard aren’t going anywhere, and Mets decision-makers frame Stroman as a replacement for Zack Wheeler. That leaves two spots for some combination of Matz, Porcello and Wacha.
Matz leads that trio with the strongest combination of health (30 starts) and performance (4.21 ERA) in 2019. Wacha had a 4.76 ERA in 24 starts (plus five relief appearances) as he lost his spot in the St. Louis rotation twice. Porcello was his usual, durable self in making 32 starts for the Red Sox but suffered through a 5.52 ERA, the worst among qualified pitchers.
On his first day with his new team, Wacha said he was “trying not to focus too much on it.” He said neither general manager Brodie Van Wagenen nor anyone else with the Mets has discussed the rotation competition with him.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Wacha said. “Just go out there and control what I can control, and that’s competing on the mound, throwing strikes and doing my job as well as I can. That’s the main focus for me.
“I feel like I’ve been in sort of similar situations in the past. Guess I’m used to that type of competition. I’m looking forward to getting out there.”
Asked about the rotation competition, Van Wagenen said, “We’re not even looking at that at this point. Our focus will be preparing those six guys, plus every one of our other pitchers, plus all of the guys on our roster and even some of the non-roster guys, to be in a position to be healthy at the end of camp and hit the ground running.”
Wacha, however, indeed is no stranger to needing to earn a starting job. During spring training 2017 — less than two years after being an All-Star — he used his Grapefruit League performance to nab a spot in the Cardinals’ rotation. Last year, he worked his way back into the rotation twice after brief stints in the bullpen.
The greatest concern with Wacha is his inability to stay healthy. Last year, a sore knee sidelined him briefly and a sore elbow cut his final start short. In 2018, a strained left oblique ended his season in June. In 2016 and 2014, shoulder issues caused him to miss time.
Because of that, Wacha’s contract is full of incentives. He has a $3 million salary but can earn bonuses based on the number of starts (or three-inning relief outings) he makes, topping out at $7 million — $10 million total — for 30 such appearances.
That means the Mets will get what they pay for. If he is good enough and healthy enough to start all year, they will happily pay him the full load. If he is ineffective and/or injured, their cost is limited.
Wacha said he tweaked his mechanics and offseason weight room routine in an effort to not get hurt. He already feels better than he did in spring training last year, when he was finishing with the lingering effects of the oblique injury that messed with his 2018-19 offseason.
“Everything has been feeling good so far,” he said, “so I’m very positive.”