It’s easy to become hypnotized by Zack Wheeler’s arm and paralyzed by the fear that just as he appears to figure out how to harness his gifts and seems to be healthy, the New York Mets are debating whether to trade him or not.
There should be no debate. The Mets not only should trade Wheeler before the approaching MLB trade deadline, but they must trade Wheeler. Here’s why:
- He’s only locked in as a Met through 2019.
Wheeler is under team control for one more season after this one. Given the poor state of pitching in general across the major leagues, should he remain injury-free and be little more than serviceable, that should be worth at least $30 million in the current climate. Despite reports that the Mets are in a stronger financial situation than they’ve been in years – believe it or don’t – the approaching trade/sign decisions on Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard take precedence over Wheeler.
Beyond his arm and the perception that he might have put the puzzle pieces together, a major factor of why Wheeler is so attractive as a trade chip is that he is not a rental and whichever team trades for him will have him for another year at a reasonable price.
His current salary is $1.9 million. A guesstimate of his 2019 arbitration award with his 2018 production should come in at around $4 million. Sure, the argument could be made that the Mets could use that themselves, but with them unlikely to sign him long-term and their status as a contender for 2019 hinging on issues that go far beyond the 150 innings Wheeler might give them in a reasonable scenario, it’s better to maximize his value when it’s at its highest.
- Barring a miraculous jump, that value will never be higher to the Mets.
Had the Mets traded Wheeler at any point preceding this one, they would have received very little in return. Since he’s pitched far better than his basic statistics indicate in 2018, has regularly gone beyond 100 pitches and provided six innings-plus in 13 of his 18 starts and has been consistently effective, this goes beyond eye-popping velocity and secondary stuff including a new and impressive split-finger. His control has drastically improved; his mechanics are cleaner and more easily repeatable; and he’s taken the ball every fifth day without the multiple maladies that negatively impacted his early career.
Clearly, manager Mickey Callaway and pitching coach Dave Eiland have had a good influence on Wheeler. That he’s healthy right now makes it of greater importance that they think about this logically and are not hindered by “what if?” Wheeler has always been a “what if?” A few months does not eliminate that the answer was rarely positive until now and it remains speculative.
- He can return after 2019 when the Mets have a better idea of what they are.
Wheeler has been adamant in his desire to stay and, unlike most players, it sounds genuine. He had called Sandy Alderson in 2015 and told him he wanted to stay when he was part of the original trade for Jay Bruce – one year before the Mets acquired Bruce. Alderson said it did influence him.
But this is about current need and pure business. If Wheeler continues his upswing and truly likes being a Met, there’s the looming free agency a year-and-a-half from now. He can return.
The state of the Mets is more pressing in this process than Wheeler himself. Their farm system is weak and they do not yet have a permanent general manager to replace Alderson. They are not contenders and are preparing a selloff of their pending free agents. They are debating what to do with deGrom and Syndergaard. Wheeler is several levels down from those two and is not as franchise-altering should they trade him and it turn out to be a mistake.
Without a permanent GM and a known blueprint as to where the organization is headed – retool or rebuild – nothing major will be done unless a team make a so-called Herschel Walker offer where the question goes beyond the Mets having traded one or both of their aces but to, “They got that much?!?” and openly fleeced the other party.
- He’s healthy.
Wheeler’s Tommy John surgery was more complex than most and was a case study that the procedure is not guaranteed to succeed in the customary time frame, if it succeeds at all. After missing two full seasons with the surgery and its aftermath, how far he’s come is notable. That said, it cannot be ignored that he finally got back on the mound in 2017 and missed time with biceps tendinitis and arm fatigue.
Almost all pitchers are one pitch, one move, one step away from a long stint on the disabled list. Wheeler has a documented history of it. While he’s making his starts and providing length, it’s better to maximize that than retain him hoping it’s not a mirage.
These same arguments can be spun around to make the case to retain him. However, judging by the Mets’ needs and the current circumstances, it makes zero sense to hold onto him based on a few months when he’s been with the organization for seven years and this is the first since 2014 where he can be trusted to take the ball every fifth day with solid results. Much of that was due to injury, but it was also because there were times when he seemed to have zero clue where the ball was going once it left his hand and his durability was nonexistent.
It’s always a scary thought to trade that type of talent, especially for prospects. When considering all the variables, the wise decision is to move him and do it soon.