In an effort to boost the trade value of pending free agent Zack Wheeler, the Mets are planning to take advantage of an off day to bump Steven Matz to the bullpen and have Wheeler make an additional start before the All-Star break. The hard- throwing righty will be in demand by teams in contention, but given that he’s in his walk year, the Mets aren’t likely to get more than a good prospect (and not a top 100 type) in return.
Though he got off to a bit of slow start, Wheeler has been coming on strong of late. Through 18 starts, Wheeler is 6-5 with a 4.42 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 114 innings pitched. His peripheral numbers tell a better story – 9.7 K/9, 3.63 FIP, and an ERA+ of 92. Following a Cy Young like second half of 2018, Wheeler struggled a bit this season, perhaps with getting used to a new catcher, some lousy April weather and poor defense behind him. He’s clearly trending in the right direction. Wheeler is throwing harder than ever, hitting 100 mph with his fastball a number of times. And his 5-pitch repertoire has kept batters off balance. He also fields his position well, is a strong hitter for a pitcher and has been surprisingly durable. He’s also gone deep into games more consistently than any other Mets starter this year.
Wheeler just turned 29 and a smart team would not look to trade him for a small return and savings of less than half of his $6 million salary. A smart team would make him an offer to stay on as the Mets #2 starter long-term, to commit to being Robin to Jacob deGrom‘s Batman. A smart team would sit down with his agent and open negotiations on something like a four-year $60 million contract and go from there. This is the same guy who called former GM Sandy Alderson and pleaded to stay in NY when he was nearly packaged with Wilmer Flores in a trade for the just released Carlos Gomez.
If the Mets decide to throw in the towel on 2019, there are plenty of other trade chips to help them reshuffle the deck for 2020. Seth Lugo, as much as we all love him, is pitching with a partially torn ligament. Dominic Smith, as much as we all love him, is a man without a position. Pending free agents Jason Vargas and Todd Frazier are not likely to return next year. Trading Wilson Ramos, a good-hitting catcher but a bad receiver who hasn’t jelled with the pitching staff, would be addition by subtraction. Amed Rosario, who’s struggled both with the glove and getting on base possesses enough bat, speed and youth to make him an appealing trade chip. Two possible replacements are coming up through the system and Adeiny Hechavarria can hold the line for this year.
If the Mets want to make a big trade, they should consider packaging Noah Syndergaard. Though he’s struggled this year, he’s younger, cheaper, under control and loaded with tantalizing potential. For the right price, the Mets should make him available. A team like the Houston Astros would be perfect. They need of another starter both for the playoffs and for next year with Gerrit Cole entering free agency and they have a number of top prospects like outfielder Kyle Tucker and pitcher Forrest Whitley . Syndergaard is from the Houston area too so it could be a good match.
Simply unloading pending free agents to save money and gather a few prospects is the type of short-sighted plan Alderson had. Hopefully, Brodie Van Wagenen takes a more cerebral approach to this that considers package deals, salary off-sets and, most importantly, an eye on 2020.