July 28th marks the three-year anniversary of Sandy Alderson’s first ‘big’ move as General Manager of the Mets, trading Carlos Beltran to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for right-handed pitcher Zack Wheeler. At the time, the move was cheered by many as the first step in the arduous process of rebuilding the Mets from laughing stock into contender.
Beltran’s career with the Mets was superb – hitting .280/.369/.500 in his six and a half seasons in Flushing, while playing Gold Glove defense in centerfield. His 41 home runs in the 2006 season are tied for the most in franchise history with Todd Hundley‘s 1996 season.
Of course, Beltran’s years as a Met weren’t all rosey and feel good-y. After signing the seven-year, $119 million mega deal with the club following his fantastic 2004 season, Beltran failed to live up to expectations in 2005, often drawing the ire of fans. He hit just .266/.330/.414 in that first season, good for a wRC+ of just 96. To be fair, the 2005 season for Beltran was marred by a nagging quadriceps injury that limited a good amount of his power and speed. There was also the ugly August incident in San Diego, where he collided head-first with Mike Cameron when they both dove for a fly ball. The impact this had on his performance is questionable, however, because upon his return to the lineup, his performance was more or less consistent with where it had been before the incident.
Beltran’s trademark 2006 season didn’t get off to a great start either, as he got off to an 0-13 start and was heavily booed by the fans at Shea. When he finally got his first hit of the season it was a big one – a two-run homerun off of Joey Eischen of the Washington Nationals to give the Mets an 8-5 lead in the seventh inning – the fans wanted a curtain call from Beltran, who didn’t want to acknowledge the fans. The SNY cameras were able to catch Julio Franco pulling Beltran aside for a brief moment before he went out and waved to the fans.
Then there was that dang curveball in Game 7 from Adam Wainwright. People want to blame Beltran for not swinging at that pitch and ending the season, but the Mets are not in the position of playing Game 7 of the NLCS in 2006 if not for Beltran. Plus, the real evil-doer of that year was Duaner Sanchez getting the munchies and getting in that cab, but that’s for another day.
The next two years of Beltran’s tenure with the Mets was filled with great performances, albeit on teams that found the most excruciatingly painful ways to miss the playoffs (here’s to you, Scott Schoenwies). 2009 and 2010 were years in Beltran’s career that were plagued with injuries, and were the beginning of the knee problems that still bother him today.
On May 6, 2009, Beltran was struck on his right knee with a Scott Eyre pitch and suffered a bone bruise, which he attempted to play on for about a month and a half, before finally hitting the disabled list. During the offseason, Beltran controversially had surgery on the knee without the Mets’ permission, and missed the first half of the season recovering. When he returned after the All-Star Break, his numbers were not terrific – he hit just .255/.341/.427.
Fully recovered in 2011 and now moved to right field, Beltran returned to form, raking to the tune of .289/.391/.513 before being dealt to the Giants. As sad as it was to see Beltran go, one could not help but be excited in the return of the then-21-year-old Wheeler, who was regarded as one of the Giants top pitching prospects.
Despite electric stuff, Wheeler was known to have control issues, walking 12.2% of the batters he faced in Advanced-A ball for the Giants in 2011, but he was also striking out 25.5%. In a small 27.0 inning sample with the St. Lucie Mets that year, Wheeler was much better striking out 28.8% of batters and walking just 4.6%. Part of that was credited to the Mets making some mechanical adjustments to Wheeler’s delivery, but a lot of it is just plain old random variation.
In 2012, Wheeler split the season between Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Buffalo, where he saw his walk rates decrease some as he made prospect-watchers drool over what he could become. Entering that season, Wheeler was ranked on nearly everybody’s list as the top prospect in the Mets’ system, even higher than some guy named Matt Harvey.
After spending the beginning of the 2013 season at Triple-A Las Vegas, Wheeler was called up and made his debut on June 18 in that now-fondly remembered double header at the Atlanta Braves. In his debut, Wheeler tossed six shutout innings, allowing four hits while striking out seven and walking five.
The rest of the season was a bit of a roller coaster for Wheeler, at times being dominant – as in his 12 strikeout, one walk performance against San Diego on August 15, and at times not – as in his three strikeout, six walk, outing against the Giants on September 17. There was also a point shortly after he was called up that he was criticized for tipping his pitches.
In 2014, Wheeler has progressed leaps and bounds, although not Harvey-esque leaps and bounds. He is striking out 17% more batters while walking 11% less, and has seen his FIP dip from 4.17 to 3.47. The future looks bright for Wheeler, as he seems poised to be a mainstay in a Mets pitching staff that is shaping up to be a dominant one for years to come, anchored by a plethora of home-grown arms too numerous to list.
Meanwhile, Beltran hit well in 44 games with the Giants, before moving on and playing two good years with the St. Louis Cardinals and this offseason signing a three-year, $45 million contract to return to New York, but as a Yankee.
Three years in it appears as if the Mets will ultimately be the long-term winners of this deal, especially since the Giants missed the playoffs in 2011, but you really can’t fault Giants GM Brian Sabean for making the trade. A team in win-now mode went out and filled a need by trading a prospect at a position of great organizational depth. It’s a move that GMs have always made, and will continue to make as they try to put their teams over the top, but there’s always going to be the GM on the other side looking to take advantage of that, which is what Alderson did in landing Wheeler.
Joe Vasile is the voice of the Fayetteville SwampDogs.