The good news for Zack Wheeler is that he’s finally starting to put it together. Since June 1st, batters have an OPS of .614 against Wheeler. (He’s 0-3, but we don’t need to spell out why he’s 0-3.) The bad news is that he’s not warming up in time for a playoff push, but he’s warming up in time for the trade deadline as his value is up.
(Or maybe that’s good news for Zack. Who knows what’s in his heart.)
There are many players who the Mets can possibly wheel by July 31st. But we will discuss Wheeler in particular because this came out today from Yankees correspondent for The Athletic (and former star of Five Days In Flushing) Marc Carig:
Word is they are getting loads of interest, which I interpret to mean he is more likely than not to go.
The sharks are circling, and we’re gonna need a bigger boat. What’s not to like if you’re a contender? A starting pitcher hitting his stride and ready to fill a need in the middle of somebody’s rotation. There are teams out there that could really use a guy who can provide a 3.50 ERA down the stretch and help a team to the playoffs. Maybe, Wheeler could pitch a Game 3 in Washington or Cleveland for somebody. But who?
As for the Mets, if there are multiple teams rarin’ to go on Wheeler, it could create a mini-bidding war for him. And if the Mets decide not to be cheapskates as per usual, it could mean a halfway decent prospect if the Mets play it right. I’m not sure I trust that the Mets actually will play it right, but a boy can dream.
Let’s try to handicap potential landing spots for Wheeler:
Record: 52-38, 1.0 GB in NL Central, 1.5 GA for home game in NL Wild Card
Desperation Level for mid-rotation starter: 6/10
The Cubs already have two guys in the 2 and 3 spots who have provided the same production as Wheeler has since June 1st in Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana. To add one more may seem silly. But the back of the rotation is dicey. Tyler Chatwood has been a bust so far this season, and who knows if Yu Darvish will ever be healthy. If the Cubs could be reasonably sure that Darvish was coming back, this wouldn’t be a conversation, but they’re can’t be at this point.
I think the Cubs, even though they’re leading the wild card race, want to prevent Chatwood from letting the Brewers get too far ahead as they can’t afford to let him continue to throw away start after start (Chatwood has a 6.26 ERA since the start of May.) I think that’s the desperation aspect of it … the thinking that the Brewers are more for real than ever, and if they get an ace they are not only the favorites in the NL Central, they might be the favorites to go to the World Series. Would Wheeler be enough to mitigate a Brewers team that acquires an ace? Maybe not, but it would at least help them stay in the lead in the Wild Card standings.
The Cubs don’t have any top 100 prospects so I would imagine that most of their Top 30 guys could be in play. Alex Lange has a plus curveball which I’m sure Mickey Callaway would salivate over. But most likely, it could be any two of OG D.J. Wilson, C Miguel Amaya, P Jen Ho-Tseng and 2B David Bote.
Record: 51-40, 0.5 games back in NL East, 1.5 GA in NL Wild Card
Desperation Level for mid-rotation starter: 7/10
Before you think that the Mets would never trade within the division, remember that the Braves traded Kelly Johnson to the Mets not once but twice! So Zack Wheeler going to the Braves isn’t far fetched at all. Larry Jones has always loved him, so I’m sure there’s a small part of the Braves scouting department that has had their eye on Wheeler all these years later.
The Braves find themselves in a place that they didn’t think they would be in until next season: First place. But now that they’re there, do they fill a need? And which need would that be? You would have to say that one need would have to be starting pitching. Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb have been solid at the top. After that, you have Julio Teheran who has struggled a bit, and although Anibal Sanchez has been surprisingly good, the Braves have been struggling to find a pitcher to slide into the spot of Brandon McCarthy, who is on the DL and reportedly not close to a return.
I can’t imagine Wheeler by himself bringing back anything more than, say, C William Contreras (brother of Cubs catcher Willson), and maybe Thomas Burrows, a lefty closer in high A ball. I personally would love to somehow pry P Touki Toussaint or 3B Austin Riley, but that isn’t going to happen for Wheeler. Wheeler and another good piece … say, Jeurys Familia to add to an already good bullpen? Now we’re talking.
San Francisco Giants
Record: 49-46, 3.0 GB in NL West, 4.0 GB in NL Wild Card
Desperation Level for mid-rotation starter: 8/10
This would be delicious: The Mets trade Wheeler back to the Giants who drafted him sixth overall in 2009. It would also make a ton of sense. The Giants’ rotation has suffered through an injury to Madison Bumgarner, and the continued slog of Jeff Samardzija. Derek Holland and Chris Stratton lead the Giants in starts, and that’s a problem.
Trading for a guy like Wheeler makes sense for the Giants because they’re built to win this season, and they’re within striking distance of the playoffs. There’s no reason why, after a couple of more good starts from Wheeler, that they wouldn’t be at least intrigued by the thought.
I could see a pitcher like Shaun Anderson or Garrett Williams come back, but they may want to think about Jacob Gonzalez, who is a third baseman but could move to left or first. If Gonzalez can continue to project as a third baseman, he could be a good fit coming up in 2021.
Record: 55-38, 1.0 GA in NL Central
Desperation Level for mid-rotation starter: 5/10
The problem isn’t that the Brewers lack mid-rotation starters. In fact, they have too many of them. Their problem is that some of those guys can’t stay healthy. Zach Davies was their ace going into the season, but he hasn’t put up ace numbers and his injury has no end in sight. Brent Suter is a little closer to coming back, but I’m sure the Brewers wouldn’t mind having a little insurance. Wade Miley was activated yesterday, which tells you that the Brewers will look just about anywhere for help.
While it is imperative for the Brewers to go get an ace, they will probably not be able to get Jacob deGrom, and might not want to empty the vault for Cole Hamels. So while a Wheeler trade may not me optimal for them, it’s the next best thing.
With their perceived (by me) lack of desperation for a mid-level starter, I wouldn’t expect the Brewers to offer all that much. But a guy I think the Mets may target is a guy named Tristen Lutz, who is an outfielder and … if you read his bio … sounds a lot like a toolsy guy in the mode of Brandon Nimmo (with maybe a little more power). Who doesn’t want two Brandon Nimmos these days?
But as I read his bio again, it sounds like he might not be somebody the Brewers would want to trade.
Record: 53-41, 8.0 GB in AL West, 5.0 GB in AL Wild Card
Desperation Level for mid-rotation starter: 4/10
I throw Oakland in there because they’re the only team in the American League with any sort of shot to unseat one of the five almost sure fire playoff teams in the A.L. It’s only because they’ve played so well this season and lately. They’re 19-5 in their last 24, and have earned at least a right to be in the conversation about being a buyer and not a seller.
After Sean Manaea, their rotation is a mix of hodge podge whose problem isn’t that they’ve been bad necessarily, but they’ve been hurt and shuffled around. Trevor Cahill was just activated from the DL. Frankie Montas was just sent down to the minors, and the Swingins have Edwin Jackson in their rotation. If the A’s really feel that they have a shot to catch Seattle and get be the road team in the A.L. Wild Card game against the Yankees, they’ll consider making this deal.
They’d consider making this deal because even if it doesn’t work out, Billy Beane can flip him again in the offseason or even during 2019 for another controllable asset. The danger in dealing with Beane is that he can give the Mets a prospect who is highly ranked by Baseball America, but Beane will most likely know better and dump a sinking stone on the Mets (see Howe, Art). Then the prospect he’ll get for Wheeler next season will be the next star of the organization (until he gets traded.)
Sheldon Neuse and Will Toffey look like intriguing prospects at third base. Both are blocked by Matt Chapman. Either/or would be interesting in return for Wheeler. Whichever one the Mets get, expect the other one to be a star.
New York Yankees
Record: 61-31, 3.5 GB in AL East, 3.5 GA for home game in AL Wild Card
Desperation Level for mid-rotation starter: 3/10
Now we come to the reason I’m going to wind up writing over 2.000 words on where Zack Wheeler may be traded to. Look, New York (AL) is in the playoffs. If they trade for a starter, it’ll be high end, because that’s what the Yankees do. It may not be deGrom but it could certainly be Hamels. And if they trade for a guy like Wheeler, it’ll be because they just can’t watch Sonny Gray get knocked out in the third inning anymore.
Can the Yankees get by with Luis Severino, CC Sabathia, and Masahiro Tanaka? With that offense and bullpen, of course they can. And those three would be just fine in the playoffs. The Yankees are probably just doing due dilligence asking about a guy like Wheeler. I wouldn’t be surprised if those talks went nowhere.
If the Yankees trade for Wheeler, it would solely be because they care about catching the Red Sox and having Wheeler make 15 starts instead of Sonny Gray. For that reason, I really don’t see any return that the Yankees would offer to be very high because winning the division and hosting a wild card game isn’t going to be life or death for the Yankees. So those hoping for Clint Frazier or Justus Sheffield can pretty much forget it.
Conversely, the Mets can’t sell giving away a controllable asset for close to nothing to the fan base. It’s why not many deals get done between the two clubs. If the Mets can get guys like OF Canaan Smith and P Juan de Paula, that might be considered a win.