There's been a lot of talk about whether the Mets should trade Noah Syndergaard or Jacob deGrom. However, the better move might be to keep them both and, instead, look to deal Zack Wheeler, who is 2-5 with a 4.98 ERA in 12 starts this season.
Tuesday night, the 28-year-old Wheeler tossed 100 pitches, walked four batters, struck out two and allowed six runs and eight hits during 5.2 innings against the Braves.
His ERA jumped to 4.98, despite giving up just one run during his first five innings.
However, he allowed a game-tying home run to start the sixth inning, followed by three hits to three of the next four batters, including an RBI single by Ender Inciarte that gave the Braves a lead they would not lose. He was pulled from the game after issuing back-to-back walks, after which reliever Paul Sewald allowed a grand slam.
Wheeler is a curious, but intriguing case, because he is clearly -- finally -- over the hump in terms of health and ability to command an inning. And his stuff has looked better this season than at any point during his career. For instance, Tuesday night, every fastball was more than 98 MPH. He also threw more than one mid-90s MPH slider.
He entered Tuesday night's game having completed at least six innings during 11 of his starts this season. He also entered the game with better results the more pitches he had thrown...
Wheeler's big issue this season has been dealing with the first batter of the inning. The good news is that, Tuesday night's sixth inning not withstanding, he's pitched better with runners on base -- especially in close and late games -- than he has with the bases empty. In fact, the higher the leverage situation, the better he has performed.
Compared to April and May, his xFIP is worse in June. However, overall, the statistics indicate he's pitching better to more batters. In other words, it's probably a select few hitters in difficult spots that have hurt him the past 30 days -- either because he lost focus in those moments or simply tossed an errant pitch and suffered the consequences.
Wheeler should earn at least $2 million through salary arbitration next season, after which he's eligible to be a free agent for the first time in his career. And, given the lack of quality starting pitching each season on the open market, he'll almost certainly explore his options before ever considering whether to sign a contract extension.
In other words, current contending teams in need of pitching (of which there are plenty) should see Wheeler as a legit, mid-rotation starting pitcher. It's also worth noting that the above results indicate he might be more effective in relief, but that assumes he can work long enough in advance to get his arm loose and rubbery. Remember, the more pitches he throws, the more effective he's been this season.
According to multiple reports, Chris Archer (3.77 FIP for the Rays, Cole Hamels (5.37 FIP for the Rangers), Danny Duffy (5.63 FIP for the Royals), J.A. Happ (3.20 FIP for the Blue Jays) and Tyson Ross (3.74 FIP for the Padres) are among the top starting pitchers expected to be available in trade this season.
However, I asked four MLB executives to name the 10 best players that could be dealt before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline and not one mentioned a starting pitcher. For what it's worth, they listed multiple relievers, a few outfielders and several infielders.
Meanwhile, Ross and Happ are free agents at the end of this current season. Hamels has a $20 million option for next season. Archer is under a team-friendly deal through 2021 and Duffy will earn $15 million each of the next three years.
In terms of talent when compared to the above names, the four insiders told me Wheeler (4.02 FIP) is middle of the pack. However, his low salary (roughly $1 million remaining this season), plus one year of control, should make him very attractive to other teams.
The group agreed that Archer is the best of the bunch and would require at least two top prospects to get a deal done. Hamels, they said, is currently on the market for two top 10 prospects and cash to pay his contract (roughly $15 million remaining this season). The foursome all see Ross as the least interesting option, which is why he would likely only cost a team one of their top-five pitching prospects.
Therefore, based on the above, it's fair to assume Wheeler could net the Mets another team's top five prospect and and a so-so big-league contributor and/or an additional lower-level prospect.
Synderdaard and deGrom would obviously return a ton more in a trade than Wheeler, But, they're also the two best pitchers on the Mets and under contract for two and three more seasons, respectively. If the Mets intend to compete for a postseason spot each of the next few years, they're going to need their two aces. However, Wheeler will almost certainly not be here after 2019.
In a perfect world, the Mets have enough pitching the remainder of this year, especially if Steven Matz and Seth Lugo can continue to be effective options in the rotation. Thinking long-term, Jason Vargas is under contract through next season, deGrom will be a free agent after 2020, Syndergaard and Matz are under team control through 2021, and Lugo is locked up through 2022.
And, if Mets do feel short heading in to next year, they should know there are plenty of mid-rotation pitchers likely to accept a short-term deal next winter, including Adam Ottavino, Lance Lynn, Happ and CC Sabathia.
The point is, if the Mets want to use their poor record as an opportunity to trade an arm for a young player or two, and they don't want to totally rebuild using Syndergaard or deGrom, Wheeler may be the perfect guy to move...
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!