Easiest takeaway ever from Citi Field on Tuesday night. From much of the last 12 years at this place, come to think of it:
You get what you pay for.
The Mets’ playoff hopes grow slimmer by the day, too many days, because they didn’t stock their 2020 pitching cupboard with enough viable options. And now, despite employing perhaps the game’s best pitcher, they’re starving for quality arms.
This work shift served as a new nadir, an embarrassing, 11-2 loss to the Orioles as Michael Wacha struggled to complete four innings of work in allowing five runs, four of them earned, on seven hits, including two home runs, to spike his ERA to a gruesome 7.50.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” said the earnest Wacha, citing his poor changeup as his primary malfunction Tuesday. “It’s definitely something that I’ve got to do a better job with.”
At 19-24, with 17 games left, the Mets remained in 11th place in the National League playoff race. They’ll try to rebound Wednesday night with their other offseason pitching addition, Rick Porcello, who will come to the mound sporting a 5.54 ERA. Yeesh.
“We’ve had some adversities with our starting rotation. That’s no secret,” Luis Rojas said. And that’s despite employing two-time defending NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom, who will throw every fifth day the rest of the way as the Mets try desperately to re-enter this race.
If only they had exhibited more desperation latest winter with their checkbooks. The Mets guaranteed Wacha $3 million with another $7 million in incentives, which in this COVID-shortened campaign translates to a $1.1 million guarantee and $2.59 million in incentives, some of which he’ll actually collect. The former All-Star settled for this pillow contract because the prior two seasons, he struggled to both stay healthy and pitch effectively while with the Cardinals. He hasn’t done either as a Met, visiting the injured list with a right shoulder problem and lasting as long as five innings only twice in six starts.
The 2016 American League Cy Young Award winner Porcello, who settled for a one-year, $10 million deal (adjusted to $3.7 million) after struggling mightily with the Red Sox last season, also has converted the Mets’ low risk into a low reward, although he at least has mixed in three quality starts among his previous eight. The Mets badly could use one of those Wednesday against these red-hot O’s, who stand only a half-game behind the Yankees for the final AL playoff spot.
We know that Porcello and Wacha originally came aboard as the fourth and fifth options in this Mets’ starting rotation, that Noah Syndergaard’s Tommy John surgery and Marcus Stroman’s opt-out fouled up things good. Doesn’t matter. If Porcello and Wacha were performing like fourth and fifth starters on a quality team, rather than around and below replacement value, respectively, the Mets would find themselves in a far better position.
Sure, you can point to free-agent pitchers who earned plenty more last winter than these two guys and have fared even worse; the two most obvious examples are the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg ($245 million over seven years), who started two games before going down for the year with a right wrist ailment, and the Diamondbacks’ Madison Bumgarner ($85 million over five years), who sports a ghastly 8.44 ERA and spent time on the IL with a back strain. The difference of course is that these agreements still have sufficient time to turn out better. That Strasburg’s and Bumgarner’s track records bode better things ahead.
And lest we forget, the big-money pitcher whom the Mets knew the best, Zack Wheeler, can take a healthy share of credit for the Phillies’ rise into a playoff spot, bringing smiles to Phillies fans and appreciation that their owner John Middleton willingly invested $118 million over five years in such a terrific asset.
Asked whether Wacha will stay in the rotation, Rojas replied, “Right now we’ve got to say yes.”
Two off days in the next week could change that to “No.” They’ll need him and Porcello eventually, though, or else they’ll really pay for their Hot Stove parsimoniousness.