Zack Wheeler looks to have put all of the pieces together. After a string of injuries that a player’s worst nightmare couldn’t produce, the now-28-year-old righty is finally hitting his stride as a starting pitcher for the New York Mets.
How long he remains a member of the currently beleaguered organization is yet to be determined, but if the decision was left in the hands of this writer, Wheeler would remain a Met for the duration (or darn close to it) of his contract, at least. He’ll be a free-agent after the 2019 season.
Making only $1.9 million this season and due a significant but not bank-breaking raise next season, the Smyrna, Georgia native is precisely the type of player this Mets ownership group looks to hone in on and build around.
So far this season, Wheeler has pitched to a 4.33 earned-run average with a 3.69 fielding independent pitching rating.
His 8.58 strikeouts per nine are right on par with his career marks (8.54 K/9), but his 3.23 walks per nine innings are far lower than his career mark of 3.81 BB/9.
Since June 1, Wheeler has a 3.50 ERA with a .228/.304/.297 slash line against. Clearly, progress is being made despite the Mets’ race for the NL East basement this season. That’s encouraging enough in itself.
Wheeler, with the combination of Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard in front of him, is what this franchise refers to as an “ideal situation.” Low cost, high level of productivity. The quintessential Metsies low-risk/high-reward scenario.
Throw in Steven Matz, under contract through 2020, and they have a core of starting pitchers that’s nearly unrivaled in all of Major League Baseball. Any player who can contribute at a high level while commanding a reasonable paycheck is a hot commodity for this notoriously frugal ownership group.
Having four front-line starters who are set to make less than $20 million combined making up eighty percent of your rotation is the basic equivalent of hitting a $100 jackpot on a $1 scratch-off lotto ticket.
Plus, if the Wilpons don’t believe in spending recouped insurance money, as was noted earlier this week in Metsland, and consider it still a part of the payroll, then not having to spend any free-agency funds on starting pitchers should allow the team to re-allocate those dollars to other, more pressing positions in need of an upgrade.
No, I didn’t forget about Jason Vargas and his $8 million salary for next season. But if the Mets front office didn’t mind keeping Vargas in Brooklyn for two starts before coming off of the disabled list for last night’s game while making $8 million this season, one would have to imagine they won’t mind doing the same next season.
Which brings us back to Wheeler. Amidst the middle of a rejuvenated, high watermark season, the 28-year-old has been drawing interest from a number of teams as the July 31 trade deadline approaches.
On Friday, Matt Ehalt of The Record noted that he’s “hearing it’s still 50-50 on whether Wheeler will go.” That makes sense, as the Mets trident of general managers, John Ricco, J.P. Ricciardi, and Omar Minaya, are likely tossing around the same ideas that I just outlined above.
Ricco spoke to Ehalt on the subject of Wheeler and how they plan to approach the surely oncoming eleventh-hour onslaught of inquiries and the choices the team will have to make.
“What we have to consider is [at] the start of the year, we challenged (Mickey) Callaway and (Dave) Eiland to help some of our young pitchers turn the corner and Zack is one of them,” he said. “As we sit here today he’s really blossomed into one of the better pitchers on our staff…”
“[With] one year of control, you have to consider if it’s better to keep him or move him so that’s where we are right now. We’re happy with where he is [and] the development he’s shown under coaches…,” he continued. “We’ll evaluate that over the next few days.”
First off, they must ask themselves why they’d trade such an affordable, finally healthy, and absolutely dealing Zack Wheeler, taking a chance on a hit-or-miss prospect or two that they’d receive in return and exposing a lack of MLB-ready depth on the depth chart at starting pitcher.
This is an arm you continue to build around if you’re the New York Mets, not swap for a virtual question mark. Revisit the discussion next July or even in the offseason if there’s that much interest.
But the $3-4 million he’s going to cost next year, along with his newfound confidence (and splitter), trading him now really provides no real upside. That is, of course, unless the Mets are totally blown away with an offer. At this point, with Asdrubal Cabrera off-and-shipped to Philadephia, that seems a little less likely.
They were being packaged together, which would lead us to believe that throwing in Wheeler was sweetening the pot enough for teams to consider parting with a juicy prospect package in return. Now that Cabby is gone, unless a team in dire need of starting pitching overpays for him, the juice simply would not be worth the squeeze by trading Zack Wheeler.