John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
If the Mets decide to trade Zack Wheeler in the coming weeks, which seems very possible, they'd want to make a deal similar to the one when they acquired him originally, back in July 2011 for free agent-to-be Carlos Beltran.
Unfortunately for the Mets, those types of trades are as rare as a game without a home run these days.
I.e., almost nobody gives up blue-chip prospects for a rental player anymore, as the sport trends more toward youth and teams prioritize cost-efficiency in developing their own talent.
At least nobody does since the Cubs traded Gleyber Torres to the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman in 2016, but that was the result of extraordinary circumstances, Theo Epstein trying to end a 108-year championship drought.
Wheeler, remember, was the sixth player taken in the 2009 draft, and though he'd had control issues early in his pro career, the Giants were high on him at the time of the trade.
Yet they were willing to pay that price for Beltran, a player they thought could get them over the top in their quest to win back-to-back world championships. The Giants fell short that year but won again in 2012 and 2014, though by then they had nothing to show for trading Wheeler, having decided not to re-sign Beltran.
"The industry as a whole protects its assets as never before," a team executive told me this week. "Which is why rentals don't bring back the return they once did. Teams aren't giving high-end talent for a short-term acquisition."
The last couple of years, in fact, premium position players such as J.D. Martinez and Manny Machado were traded as rental players and brought back underwhelming packages of minor-leaguers, neither one fetching what scouts considered a blue-chipper.
As for pitchers, before Yu Darvish's problems as a Cub the last couple of seasons, he was an elite talent the Rangers were dealing at the 2017 trading deadline, very much desired by the Dodgers to ride shotgun for Clayton Kershaw and try to bring home a championship.
Yet the Dodgers held firm to then-prospects Walker Buehler and Alex Verdugo, both now flourishing in the big leagues, and the Rangers had to settle for a three-player package headlined by outfielder Willie Calhoun, who flopped as a rookie last season but is showing potential this year since being called up in May, hitting .296 with an .869 OPS in 19 games.
In the deal the Rangers also got a then-19-year old pitcher, A.J. Alexi, who is pitching to a 5.59 ERA in Class-A this season, and Brendon Davis, an infielder hitting .199 in Double-A.
So what can the Mets get for Wheeler? Probably not as much as fans would expect, to be sure.
For starters they're almost certainly not getting Clint Frazier, even if they are willing make a trade with the Yankees, as SNY's Andy Martino has been reporting. Yankees GM Brian Cashman might trade Frazier at some point, but he's not giving away long-term control of what he considers a premium talent for two or three months of Wheeler.
All of which raises the question of whether it would still make more sense for the Mets to try to sign Wheeler to a long-term contract. Despite the mistake-pitches that have led to some costly home runs, a 4.42 ERA and his regression from his brilliant second half in 2018, Wheeler has been dominant in stretches, especially lately, going deep into games, and might be a better option for the next few years than anyone they're going to acquire or graduate from their farm system.
If the Mets are determined to trade Wheeler, however, here are five potential landing spots, with speculation as to what GM Brodie Van Wagenen could get in return.
Of all the top contenders, no team needs starting pitching as much as the Brewers, whose starting rotation ranks 13th in the National League with a 4.86 ERA. And four years ago, albeit under a different GM, they did like Wheeler enough to try and trade for him as part of the ill-fated deal for Carlos Gomez, even though he was out for the season due to Tommy John surgery.
Two evaluators mentioned 21-year old lefty Aaron Ashby as someone the Mets should target for Wheeler. He's only in High-A, pitching to a 2.24 ERA in four starts since being promoted, but is said to have three quality pitches, gets good sink on a 93-mph fastball, and is polished enough to move quickly toward the big leagues.
They already have strong starting pitching, but industry speculation is they'd love to get their analytics-heavy pitching hands on Wheeler's talent and see if they could do for him what they've done for Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Adding Wheeler to those two, plus Wade Miley, could make the Astros very tough to beat in October.
Forrest Whitley and Corbin Martin are top pitching prospects the Astros won't surrender. One person connected to the Mets suggested trying to get Myles Straw, a speedy 24-year old outfielder who was called up to the big leagues a month ago. He's a very good center fielder, yet so versatile defensively that the Astros are using him at shortstop as well. He has little power but he's hitting .300 in the bigs, and the speed and defense make him intriguing, while the Astros have plenty of other outfielders in the majors and minors to consider such a deal.
They're loaded with highly-regarded pitching prospects, which theoretically makes them the best fit, since the Mets desperately need young pitching if they trade Wheeler. And even after signing Dallas Keuchel, the Braves need another starter if they're serious about winning a championship this season, and they also might see the hometown Wheeler as somebody they could sign long-term.
Scouts say righthander Kyle Wright wouldn't be available, but the Braves may be so well-stocked that they might give up one of their better three lefty prospects, all age 21: Kolby Allard, Joey Wentz or Kyle Muller.
They're a lock to win the AL Central, but with a deep farm system they might be willing to deal for Wheeler as a No. 3 starter behind Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi, which would make them more formidable in the post-season.
Scouts are intrigued by 20-year old righthander Blayne Enlow, who ranks below the top few Twins' pitching prospects, but an evaluator connected to the Mets suggested targeting 22-year old catching prospect Ryan Jeffers, who has 10 home runs in Double-A with "projectable power," and is said to be solid defensively.
As SNY's Martino has reported, the Yankees are very interested in Wheeler, no doubt seeing him -- much like the Astros -- as a talented but mistake-prone pitcher they could make better via analytics and lab work, per se. But almost certainly they would have to make the best offer, and probably by a lot, to convince Mets' ownership to deal him to the Bronx.
What would that mean? The Yankes aren't trading Deivi Garcia, their righthander who is striking out the world at Double-A, and it's hard to believe they would give up top-ranked outfield prospect Estevan Florial, despite being slowed by injuries the last two seasons. The name scouts saw as a potential fit was Albert Abreu, a 23-year old righthander thought to have a high ceiling despite some ugly numbers at Double-A, including 43 walks in 69 innings.
Chances are that wouldn't satisfy Mets' fans, but that might be the case no matter where Wheeler is dealt, if he's traded at all. Such is the nature of rental deals these days.