The Mets should keep Zack Wheeler

The Mets decided to forgo a trade of impending free agent Zack Wheeler at this year’s deadline which raised the question of what his role is to the club moving forward. At this stage their options are likely limited to a qualifying offer (which would yield a conditional draft pick if another team signs Wheeler) or a longer-term deal that locks in the 29 year old right hander for a few more years. By looking at Wheeler’s previous seasons, his successes, and evaluating the current construction of the roster, one can make a strong argument for keeping the former sixth overall draft pick.

Over the last two years, in which Wheeler has played through the end of his initial service contract with the Mets, he has arguably been the club’s second best starting pitcher and has shown that he is capable of gutsy performances against playoff caliber teams. Most notably, he pitched to the tune of 1.68 ERA over a dominant second half last year and now in 2019 he owns a respectable 2.93 ERA in the second half.

Throughout his six year career with the Mets, Wheeler has ranked in the 22nd percentile among qualified major league starting pitchers in Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) with a mark of 3.72. Or in other words, he has been one of the best of every five starters over this extended timeframe. A sample size of this margin with a pedigree such as that is nothing to glaze over when making a decision about said player’s future.

Interestingly enough, when looking at Wheelers rankings over this timeframe, he appears slightly ahead of an impressive Cole Hamels who’s data tracks through his age 30 to 35 year old seasons. Wheeler, who will be 30 years old at the start of the 2020 season, would do quite well for himself if he is able to emulate a career arc such as Hamels. Diving in a bit further, Hamels even makes for a formidable comp; his career FIP up to his age 30 season was 3.56. While this puts him more in the category of recent years’ Jon Lester and Dallas Keuchel, the fact that Hamels’ FIP is within .24 between his first eight seasons and his last six is impressive to say the least. So, for Wheeler, the consistency and longevity are the targets; a drop-off of the same magnitude would put him in the same vicinity as Jeff Samardzija and Felix Hernandez.

One could argue that Wheeler has the pitching infrastructure to be able to survive in the league for years to come. Not necessarily a strikeout pitcher by today’s standard, and with a pitch repertoire that keeps batters guessing, Wheeler is well positioned to be a balanced starter even as his velocity begins to drop. In an interview with Tim Britton of The Athletic during the offseason, Wheeler speaks directly to this “It comes with maturity in the game. It’s feeling the ball off your fingers. I felt like I knew where everything needed to be at a certain point. I could feel certain pressures on my finger, which I really couldn’t do before. I felt like I was turning into a pitcher rather than a thrower. When you can start feeling what you’re doing with a baseball, manipulating it, it makes it that much easier for you.”

Recently, Wheeler earned himself street cred with a dominant performance over the Dodgers on national television. With just a few more starts to go until the 2019 season comes to an end, the question of where Zack Wheeler will be pitching in 2020 should be front of mind. Met fans will argue that with a plethora of starting pitching already on the team, that the funds required to retain Wheeler would be best used elsewhere. However this writer believes that the club should take a cue from Blackjack and split the Aces and double down; sign Wheeler to four year contract to match the end date of Jacob deGrom. Pair the two aces together, optimizing their success, and continue to overpower the National League with starting pitching, bolstered by two more years of Noah Syndergaard’s big arm. The Mets would be fostering their own version of the Atlanta Braves trio of the 90’s.

Speaking of which, this is the type of move where ‘blocking’ another team is a calculated consideration (not when losing a five tool prospect is involved). While signing Wheeler only involves money – which is a sensitive topic among the Mets front office – it would crush the franchise if the ace signed with his hometown Braves and brought a pennant to them. Perhaps Wheeler would be willing to give the team that traded for him a discount, some will remember 2015 when he called up Sandy Alderson to express a desire to not be traded and remain with the team.

The focus around Wheeler should begin to shift over the next few months from ‘if’ to ‘how much?’ Perhaps the aforementioned Samardzija would be a good contract template to start – 4 years, $18m per year. With Todd Frazier and Juan Lagares off the books (and presumably a significant insurance savings on David Wright and Yoenis Cespedes), the Mets need to pony up and get a deal done for their ace in the hole.

16 comments for “The Mets should keep Zack Wheeler

  1. Chris F
    September 18, 2019 at 9:17 am

    Chris, have you thought about this in the context of what the Mets payroll structure is and other needs?

    No one contract can be viewed absent the totality of payroll.

    What would adding 18M$ AAV do for 2020 payroll?

    And in my book calling both deGrom and Wheeler “aces” severely diminishes deGrom’s accomplishments, and elevates Wheeler to a level he is nowhere near.

    • Chris B
      September 18, 2019 at 10:35 am

      Lagares, Frazier and Vargas come off the books for a combined $20m, thats a start.

      deGrom is clearly the Ace of Spades and Wheeler perhaps the Ace of hearts…but within the context that Wheeler is top 22% I would consider him someone who can be the top guy out of five in any given rotation (although I’d much rather prefer him as the second or third option).

      Re: other needs I would say that CF and bullpen are most important which perhaps can be improved via trade?

      • September 18, 2019 at 11:03 am

        That’s all well and good. But deGrom’s salary is going up $16 million, Familia’s is going up $5, Lowrie’s is going up $3, Ramos’ is going up $1 and you have to account for arbitration raises for Stroman, Syndergaard, Matz, Conforto, Nimmo and Diaz. That’s roughly $40 million more than last year. Sure, they’re losing $20 million but that still leaves a $20 million uptick in payroll before paying Wheeler.

        There’s nothing in the post-Madoff history of the Mets to suggest they’re going to run a $190 million 25-man Opening Day payroll

        • Chris F
          September 18, 2019 at 1:42 pm

          I think every “contract” discussion should have payroll be a required element.

          Just looking at BR for contracts in 2020, the Mets today sit at 184M$ with opening day payroll for guaranteed+arb+minimum salaried players.

          If you include exercising options, the total of money for 2020 *right now* is 188M$.

          Unless there is a dramatic change to the way the Wilpon’s support the team financially, the room for adding FAs is extremely small. If you take the proposed 18M$ for next year, the opening day salary would be > 200M$. There is no evidence ownership is looking to do this.

          Its worth noting, it seems likely Ces will be coming off insurance so his money is a real cost; he is unmovable. Cano is unmovable. There is 54M$ in sunk costs for essentially minimal production. Jake’s salary is 25 M$, so we are at 79M$ in those three alone.

          If you think the news gets better for 2021, think again. BR estimates about 154M$ in fixed salaries right now, ballooning to 210M$ in 2022 with all the arb salaries kicking in. The first real payroll relief comes in 2024, although that is so far away that the only contracts are arb projections. At that point Ces, Cano, and Jake are off the books with present contracts.

          As we approach silly season, I think it is very worth considering the lux tax minimum as essentially the cap, and existing contracts (with arb projections) as essential to FA pick ups.

          I think you can take Rendon off the list. He’s gonna be in the 200M$ window with at least a 20M$ AAV if I had to guess.

          If deGrom is an ace. Wheeler is a Jack.

          • Chris B
            September 18, 2019 at 5:19 pm

            Thanks for the back end research Chris F. I think that we have seen enough out of Brodie to know that he is capable of wheeling and dealing. That alone makes it possible that salary is shed in some capacity (how is another Q altogether).

            This idea coupled with perhaps a backloaded Wheeler contract could make it v possible that we see ZW as a Met in 2020.

            • Chris F
              September 18, 2019 at 7:03 pm

              Im curious, you believe there is a team out there for Lowrie? Cano? Cespedes?

              I cant see the team trading Ramos or deGrom. So Im curious what kind of salary dump you see wheeling and dealing for? Bad contract for bad contract perhaps, but that gets you no room.

              Im not saying a Wheeler reunification is impossible, but you add that and the pen and *anything* else and you are way over spent. I guess you can release or trade some of the arb folks but thats not gonna get you offset from the arb salaries coming from those staying.

    • September 18, 2019 at 10:54 am

      Too bad they didn’t ask this question when they acquired Cano

      • Chris B
        September 18, 2019 at 1:17 pm

        I guess the big unknown here is how much they recouped from DW and Cespedes insurance and whether or not it will be applied to future salaries. 2021 bodes well when Yo, Lowrie, Ramos, Wilson etc are off the books.

        • Chris F
          September 18, 2019 at 1:54 pm

          Chris, they have been collecting insurance on both for years, and payroll hasn’t increased dramatically. They are not taking recovered salary and plopping back into payroll. That was also made fairly clear by ownership some time ago, although I would need to dig for ages to find the quote.

          Anecdotally, it is obvious they are not adding. Also keep in mind, there is absolutely no evidence ownership will exceed lux tax limit, so that is effectively a salary cap.

  2. TexasGusCC
    September 18, 2019 at 9:26 am

    The time to trade Wheeler was last December. If not, then in June. These last ten months have shown that the Mets are acting like a spoiled kid house-sitting someone else’s home: They will use everything, replenish nothing and be ready to leave a mess in a short while. Just looking at Dave Groveman’s prospect rankings shows the barrenness of this farm system. As a fan, I applaud wanting to win over tanking but I feel the Mets were in a good position last winter that trading Wheeler wouldn’t have hurt that position and would have helped the future be better.

    More than anyone, BVW lives by “tomorrow is promised to no one”. Too, Zack Wheeler has said that he will not give the Mets a hometown discount if it went into his last season, and I can’t blame him. They missed both boats, like usual.

    • Chris B
      September 18, 2019 at 10:41 am

      Good insight Gus – here’s to hoping that all those ‘experts’ that BVW brought in are smart enough to right the ship.

  3. NYM6986
    September 18, 2019 at 10:06 am

    Great post. If they can sign Wheels and Stroman continues to pitch like the ace he can be, and if we can resurrect the BP for 2020, we should be contenders. We have plenty of bats- although Rendon would be more than sweet at the hot corner.

  4. September 18, 2019 at 1:07 pm

    Did anyone else notice the discussion regarding the proximity of the hotels in Colorado (to the ballpark) and the comments regarding how that could happen in the Mets’ “Iron Triangle”? Maybe some developments are afoot with the Wilpons.

  5. John Fox
    September 18, 2019 at 1:43 pm

    Chris, will the Mets get much if anything from insurance for Cespedes since his ranch injury would be considered a non-baseball injury?

    • Chris B
      September 18, 2019 at 5:26 pm

      These details aren’t public knowledge from what I’ve researched, and I doubt that they ever will be. It also gets tricky bc despite recouping a portion via insurance the salaries still count towards the lux tax total. It gets even more messy bc the details of DWs buyout arrangement isn’t clear.

  6. Bear
    September 18, 2019 at 8:22 pm

    Is Wright worth a multi year deal at 18 million or more a year? How many FA signing have worked out for the Mets? Wright,,Cespedes, didn’t work out. Thank Goodness they let Reyes walk and didn’t extend Harvey. And how many FA signings have worked?

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