Three years after the Beltran-Wheeler swap, a look back

Giants Beltran BaseballJuly 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.

16 comments for “Three years after the Beltran-Wheeler swap, a look back

  1. July 28, 2014 at 9:29 am

    Congratulations to Alderson for pulling off this trade. Someday soon he needs to show he can trade young guys for a veteran.

    • Joe Vasile
      July 28, 2014 at 10:24 am

      Indeed. Word on the street says they’re willing to deal Syndergaard as the centerpiece in a deal for Tulowitzki. I’m very much okay with that, and I’m not a big fan of dealing prospects.

      • Jerry Grote
        July 28, 2014 at 11:15 am

        read some of that as well, almost an indication that a true blockbuster might be out there … CarGo + Tulo together.

        That would be a rape and pillage of our farm system, but … it turns the team into an immediate powerhouse.

        Torn on Tulo. I think of him more and more like a Fregosi trap.

        • Joe Vasile
          July 28, 2014 at 12:56 pm

          Honestly I think that CarGo is a bigger risk to bust than Tulo just because CarGo’s home-road splits are far more drastic than Tulo’s, plus CarGo doesn’t come with Gold Glove defense.

          • Chris F
            July 28, 2014 at 1:15 pm

            CarGo is a 3x GG winner (2010, 2012, 2013) and 2x all star.

    • Chris F
      July 28, 2014 at 12:43 pm

      I think this is clearly the bigger, more leveraged end of a deal like Wheeler for Beltran. The stakes at trading an All Star (and the Mets best center fielder of all time) for prospects put the return on investments immediately on the side of acquiring an All Star. Alderson knew Wheeler was years off, and so would be the pressure he would face on the outcome. Plenty of prospects miss. Its simply easier to trade down and Alderson got a #1 for an All Star, as it should be (see Samardzjia). The flip side is the thing my eyes cannot peel away from: How will Alderson perform on the trading up side of the deal?

      All the hype (and I think its all hype like the 90 Wins hoopla) surrounding Tulo and CarGo and the Mets and what it would take makes me wonder. Mets insiders want a chair at the dinner table (like Cano?) if they come up. Would we take on nearly 200M$ in salary as well as forfeit a few arms and a quality position player? How would that tie in with “long term” stability? I cannot seem to reconcile the two positions. Tulo is 29…already facing the slide down like Wright. Sure, the two side by side would look great…but how about in 2016? ’17?. Im not sold on it.

      • Joe Vasile
        July 28, 2014 at 12:59 pm

        I share the same concerns about trading up as you do, Chris. Honestly, I’ll just be happy when the time finally comes that the Mets start trading up, because that’s the signal that the rebuild is over. Granderson and Colon in the offseason was a nice start, but I’m won’t be convinced of that until a big splash is made.

  2. Jerry Grote
    July 28, 2014 at 10:50 am

    On the Beltran trade – his numbers in SF looked good on the surface, but as I recall he couldn’t hit worth a damn initially after the trade.

    Pretty much after the Jints were out of it things turned around for him – but SF fans (and the clubhouse) I don’t think ever forgave him. I think there was some sort of crap about the incumbent RFer … Schierholtz?

    The Mets got a league average pitcher at the early age of 24 for two months of Beltran. A good deal then, a good deal now.

    • Jerry Grote
      July 28, 2014 at 10:59 am

      yeah a quick look back at game logs. Beltran was at an MVP level just prior to moving from the Mets, at 1.071 OPS.

      Went to SF, and produced a .664 OPS through the next 20 games while the team dropped out of contention, losing 13 of 20.

      Finished up again like an MVP, with an OPS above 1.000. Just the way the cards fall sometimes, you have to get the right sequence of events.

      • Joe Vasile
        July 28, 2014 at 11:04 am

        Yes, that is correct. And to build off your prior point, Wheeler is average to above average now, and is only going to get better.

        • Chris F
          July 28, 2014 at 11:34 am

          That far remains to be seen Joe. He has a number of well below average aspects to his game. If he slots into being a #3 or #4 starter, well so it goes. Sabean made a calculated risk that Beltran would be the guy to turn the corner…and that was an excellent call at the time he was traded. Ok, well Beltran didnt turn out to be that in SF, yet went on to be a feared hitter in StL. His post Mets story has been quite successful. On the other hand, Wheeler hasnt actually been an ace of any sort as a #1 prospect, nor is he on that path IMO. Both clubs had needs, and both did what was exactly right at that moment in time. We got younger and cheaper and added an arm, and the Giants went all in on going for a WS with a needed bat. The success Sabean has had in SF certainly says his decision-making skills are largely dead on. The trade was a win-win deal on both sides.

          • Jerry Grote
            July 28, 2014 at 12:00 pm

            much truth here. On the Gints-

            Most people outside of SF don’t give Sabean any credit. I know I don’t.

            But I was wrong on the Wheeler deal – I thought the Mets absolutely ripped him off.

            I was wrong on the contract to Pagan.

            On the contract to Scutaro.

            How good does the Morse contract look right now?

            Hunter Pence … that was a stupidly large contract. Until now, when it isn’t.

            He’s probably going to turn out to be right on the Peavey deal and he got widely dissed on that one too.

            I guess he’s a better GM than I thought.

  3. Jerry Grote
    July 28, 2014 at 11:11 am

    Trading away ML WAR for magic beans:

    This trade was seen as lopsided, particularly because there was no chance the Mets would keep Beltran. That said, the guy went on to produce 6 WAR for St. Louis.

    I don’t know this for a fact, but I’d guess the likelihood of a High A pitcher delivering 6 Wins is about 40%, even when they were once picked 6th in the draft. (this would make a good topic for further study). Beltran represented a pretty darned good chance to get you that much productivity.

    Its why I specifically don’t like trading for magic beans. Its worked out for the Mets, and that’s good. But the idea is to win games in Queens, not in Binghampton.

  4. Scott Ferguson
    July 28, 2014 at 11:25 am

    This was and is an excellent trade. Alderson has been excellent at these types of moves so far, but I agree that it’s time for the opposite to take place. If what Joe said is correct and a Tulo deal surrounding Syndergaard is out there, then it’s up to Alderson to prove he can take that next step.

  5. Marc melton
    July 28, 2014 at 11:36 am

    Thank you for pointing out that before Harvey started being ridiculously dominant, Wheeler was #1 on almost every top prospect list.

    I’m a big believer in Wheeler.

  6. Metsense
    July 28, 2014 at 11:30 pm

    On July 28, 2011 the Mets were 54-51, three games above .500, 6.5 games out of the wildcard, with three teams ahead of them. At the beginning of July 2011 they were at .500 and 6.5 games out. Going into the trade deadline they had a winning month but were not making up ground. Wouldn’t it have been wiser to extend an All Star right fielder Beltran for two more years at $26M than to trade him? Of course the Wilpon’s made sure that couldn’t happen by straining the relationship in the past and investing in a ponzi scheme and therefore not having the money. Having Beltran for two more years may have made a difference in 2012.
    Sandy, with his financial back up against the wall made a magnificent trade under adverse conditions. These type of trades are Sandy’s strength.
    The by product of the trade was that Duda was now given a chance to play regularly and he responded very well.

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