Did Yoenis Cespedes’ New Deal Give The New York Mets Room To Add Rick Porcello & Michael Wacha?

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Sometimes, the constant cynicism regarding everything the Mets do wears on even those used to long-accustomed to cynicism as the default reaction to everything the Mets do.

And then days like Friday come along and remind us all why cynicism should be the default reaction to everything the Mets do.

The Mets seemed to do something worthy of praise Thursday, when they reportedly agreed to terms with Rick Porcello on a one-year deal worth $10 million.

Of course, even this came with a caveat. Porcello, coming off a season in which he posted the highest ERA of any qualifying starting pitcher, is probably going to replace Zack Wheeler in the rotation. A New York-based baseball team is supposed to retain a still-ascending, upper-rotation pitcher who has spent his entire career in the Big Apple instead of never making him an offer and watching him leave for a nine-figure deal with a division rival.

But still. By signing Porcello, the Mets added a reliable fifth starter — he ranked fifth in the majors with 308 starts this decade — with experience pitching in a big market and took a step towards minimizing the effect their bullpen, which was likely the difference between making the playoffs and sitting at home in 2019, can have in 2020.

With the addition of Porcello, the Mets are the only team with five starters who made at least 30 starts last season. Any method by which the Mets ensure more innings for their starters and fewer for their relievers is good, especially considering the Porcello news trickled out a day after the Mets agreed to terms on a deal worth $3 million guaranteed with Michael Wacha, an injury-prone right-hander who has made 30 starts in a season twice and thrown 180 innings once.

Bringing aboard Porcello, then, would likely turn Wacha into the major league-caliber sixth starter the Mets never had last season and miraculously barely needed because the six members of their rotation (Marcus Stroman replaced Jason Vargas just before the trade deadline) combined to make 154 starts.

Except — and there’s always an except with the Mets — Wacha’s signing was officially announced Friday, when the extraordinarily polite Wacha (we’re not used to players thanking us for questions around here) said on a conference call the Mets told him “…they’ve got a spot to start” for him.

Of course. That makes too much Mets sense. As of Thursday, the Mets had almost $187 million committed to just 19 players. That’s almost $40 million higher than their 2019 payroll, and per the figures at Spotrac, put the Mets in danger of exceeding the competitive balance threshold of $216 million in 2020 and thus paying a tax.

So of course the Mets weren’t going to hit Port St. Lucie in a couple months with six starters. The arrival of Porcello or Wacha likely portended the departure of another starter — Stroman, Steven Matz or Noah Syndergaard — who could possibly be attached to one of the Mets’ no-good, very-bad contracts belonging to Jeurys Familia, Jed Lowrie or, in the unlikely best-case scenario, Yoenis Cespedes. In the end, the Mets would once again be down to five major league-caliber starters with no backup in case their good fortune from 2019 did not spill over into 2020.

Except — and there’s almost always multiple excepts with the Mets, sometimes within hours of each other — Wacha’s press conference was followed by the news the Mets have reached agreement on a restructured and amended contract with Cespedes, who underwent surgeries on both his heels in 2018 and saw any chance of returning in 2019 disappear in May after he suffered a mysterious ankle injury while on his Florida ranch.

General manager Brodie Van Wagenen, who negotiated Cespedes’ contract back in his agent days, immediately called the injury a result of a “non-baseball-related-activity,” and the Mets went about not paying Cespedes and filing a grievance with the Players Association in an attempt to void the remainder of the contract, which runs through next year.

The new deal allows Cespedes to avoid the all-or-nothing nature of a hearing and gives him a much smaller guarantee for 2020 — less than $10 million according to The New York Post — with the chance to earn another $10 million in bonuses. It also drops the Mets beneath the competitive balance threshold.

Saving almost $20 million with Cespedes should — should — allow the Mets to go forward with their newfound rotation depth, although it would be foolish to believe the Mets are done mixing and matching and reducing their margin for error while trying to pare their projected payroll.

Earlier this month, Ken Rosenthal reported the Mets were trying to trade Lowrie or Familia and were willing to pair one of them with a much more inexpensive and cost-controlled young player such as Dominic Smith, who showed signs of breaking out last season but appears to be blocked at both first base (Rookie of the Year Pete Alonso) and left field (J.D. Davis, the best acquisition of the Van Wagenen Era).

But what if the Mets must keep reducing payroll, and someone such as the defensively limited Smith isn’t enough to entice someone to take on the money still owed to Lowrie or Familia? In other words: Don’t get used to the concept of the Mets trying to fit six into five quite yet.

In the meantime, we can wonder why the Mets can’t just sign a fifth and a sixth starter because it’s good baseball sense, and not only find room for actual big league depth after a protracted contract squabble with a former superstar. That’s not to say the Mets don’t/didn’t have reason to be furious with Cespedes. But just recognize a sunk cost and release the player, like the Yankees did with Jacoby Ellsbury, and then go through the process of trying to recoup the money for a perceived violation of contract.

Why do the Mets have to figure out a way to spend less on Cespedes in order to upgrade the back of their rotation? Why does everything have to come with an except for the Mets? Better yet, why do we even bother continuing to ask?