Mets RHP Zack Wheeler has been one of the league's best pitchers since the All-Star Game, during which the Mets are 30-25.
In his 10 starts since the break, Wheeler has eight wins and the second-best ERA in baseball (1.32). He also has the league's best WHIP (0.81) and he's tied for fourth overall with a 2.5 fWAR since mid-July.
The last Mets pitcher to have nine or more wins after the All-Star break was Steve Trachsel in 2001. During Wheeler's past 12 starts, the Mets are 10-2.
He is also just 10 innings shy of tying his career-high of185.1 innings pitched in a season, which he set for himself in 2014.
"I think it's just him getting more and more comfortable with the pitcher he is," according to Mets manager Mickey Callaway, who said Wheeler inspires his teammates while on the mound in the same way as Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard.
Including Monday night's start against the Phillies, Wheeler could take the hill three more times before the end of the season (although Callaway said Monday he was "not sure" if this could be the end of the season for Wheeler). If he continues his recent trend and is allowed to keep pitching, he could finish the year 13-7 with just under 200 innings pitched and roughly a 3.30 ERA.
To compare, know that Syndergaard should likely finish the year also with an ERA around 3.30, while making just 24 starts and throwing 150 innings.
Given the way he's pitching, it's hard to believe Wheeler started this season in the minor leagues. However, that is exactly what happened, because -- leaving Spring Training -- there were still lots and lots of question marks surrounding him, due to concerns over his stamina, health and whether he should pitch in relief or the rotation.
Thankfully, here he is, realizing his potential. And, because multiple contending teams recently wanted Wheeler to join their rotation, the Mets should want him to stay in theirs..
The point is, given the way he's ending 2018, Wheeler should absolutely be considered in a top-tier starting pitcher heading into the offseason.
Following a summer when multiple teams expressed interest in trading for him, it's fair to assume those same teams and more will be calling asking again about the status of Wheeler, who is under contract for one more season before becoming a free agent for the first time in his career.
The Mets need young, affordable, under-team-control position players, which is what they'll likely want in return for Wheeler, assuming they make him available. The thing is, given respective histories, injuries and recent results, the Mets may want to consider keeping Wheeler and trading Syndergaard.
The fact is, while he hasn't yet had any direct elbow or shoulder issues, like Wheeler, Syndergaard has complained of forearm pain on a few occasions during his professional career. He also had a lat injury last season. As a result, given how much he relies on his arm (and barely uses his lower half) most pitching experts I talk with all expect a major surgery to be in his future. I mean, even his former pitching coach, Dan Warthen, predicted Syndergaard would be unable to side step surgery given the velocity of his pitches.
"He's all arm, has little rotation and barely shifts his weight," an NL scout who frequently watches the Mets told me in July. "Also, he has the ball too low when planting his front foot, which means he's always putting a ton of stress on that right arm. Unless he is a freak of nature, that will eventually be a problem for him."
On the other hand, Wheeler already had Tommy John surgery, as well as a host of follow-up procedures to help strengthen and reduce pain in his elbow. This is probably why he's been mostly stable this season and on pace to set new career highs.
If Wheeler goes down with another major injury, it'll be something we didn't see coming. However, if Syndergaard one day is shut down for surgery we're all going to know why...
I realize I'll probably regret writing the above, but my concern for Syndergaard is less about how hard he throws and more about where and how he throws it.
In October, the Mets are expected to go outside the organization and hire a new general manager, who most likely will be in a similar situation with Wheeler that the current group was in during July.
Teams that had interest in trading for Wheeler all told me they had concerns about his health and stamina since he's made 30 starts in a season just once during his nine-year career in the minors and majors.
"He looks like he's arrived, but the lack of a track record makes him more of a risk than he probably should be," an AL team source told me.
There have been zero published reports indicating the Mets and Wheeler have discussed a contract extension. However, the Mets are in a good spot to negotiate, especially if Wheeler remains healthy and completes his first full season since having Tommy John surgery.
He'll be tempted to try to duplicate his 2018 season in 2019 because it will make him an elite starting pitcher during that winter's free agency. On the other hand, if he gambles on his body and loses, he'll be hard-pressed to get offered anything more than a one- or two-year contract.
Therefore, the consensus among MLB insiders is that the Mets would be wise to offer -- and Wheeler would be wise to accept -- a new, back-loaded, three-year, $20 million contract with a signing bonus, 2022 option and incentives based on games started or innings pitched.
The other option facing the next front office will be whether to pick up conversations with teams that had interest in Wheeler, such as the Braves and Brewers.
In return for Wheeler, the Mets were likely being offered a marginal big-league player and no more than two of a team's Top 15-30 prospects. SNY's Andy Martino said the Mets wanted at least one top-10 prospect, which may be why they never agreed to a trade. Given how he's pitched the past few months, it's possible he's now worth the more lucrative return.
In either case, if the Mets trade Wheeler this winter, they're going to need to replace him. And, I don't know how they do that for just a one-year, $4-5 million deal, which is what Wheeler is expected to be paid next season.
It's a difficult situation, and I have no idea how to expect it to be handled because we have no idea who the new GM will be and how that person will approach next season's roster.
That said, for now, just enjoy what he's doing. Take a minute and appreciate how hard he's worked to get where he is today; enjoy what he's accomplishing for himself and for the Mets (even if it's just to increase his trade value); and be thankful he's finally realizing his potential after years of waiting for him to do so...
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!