Despite tons of rumors, Zack Wheeler remained with the Mets past the trade deadline. And Wheeler sticking with the Mets might not just be a two-month thing, with Brodie Van Wagenen saying Wednesday that they view him as a potential long-term answer.
So Wheeler's tenure with the Mets continues, and it's one that has been a very interesting journey, starting in 2011.
Heading into the All-Star break that year, the Mets were 46-45, but 11 games out of first place while 7.5 games back and trailing five teams for the Wild Card.
Less than 10 months after being hired, Mets GM Sandy Alderson made it known he was open to dealing outfielder Carlos Beltran, who would be a free agent at the end of that season.
Beltran was in the middle of a bounce-back season following two years of injuries and a controversial knee surgery that was reportedly not sanctioned by the organization.
Hitting .285 with 13 home runs, 28 doubles and 53 RBI at the break, Beltran was widely considered a top outfield target for teams looking to add offense in advance of the July 31 trade deadline.
Meanwhile, in San Jose, Calif., pitching in Single A, was Giants pitching prospect Zack Wheeler, who was beginning to be considered one of the best young arms in baseball. Wheeler received praise from scouts and published reports for his 97 mph fastball, impressive curve ball and a developing changeup.
Wheeler had particular value to the Giants, who feared they might soon lose Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito to free agency. However, at the same time, coming off a World Championship and feeling pressure to capitalize on their success, the Giants made Wheeler available in hopes of acquiring a hitter to replace an injured Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez, and a banged up Pablo Sandoval.
Giants GM Brian Sabean considered Beltran and/or soon-to-be free agent Jose Reyes as possible solutions. In return, ESPN.com's Buster Olney later reported, Alderson often asked about Wheeler, as well as 20-year-old prospect Madison Baumgarner, neither of whom the Giants wanted to deal.
My sources in both cities at the time told me that, when talks first started in June, the Giants preferred to acquire Beltran or Reyes by dealing a young position player, specifically outfield prospect Gary Brown.
Brown, 22 at the time, entered 2011 ranked the league's 38th-best prospect, according to Baseball America and MLB.com. However, given the team's lack of minor-league pitching, Alderson and Paul Depodesta continued to press the Giants for Wheeler, who was ranked three slots ahead of Brown.
Having talked with several insiders in late 2011, I remain convinced that Alderson intended only to trade Beltran for a team's top prospect, indicated by his repeated request for Domonic Brown (Phillies), Will Middlebrooks (Red Sox) and Mike Minor, Julio Teheran or Arodys Vizcaino (Braves). Otherwise, he would have kept Beltran to either trade through waivers or get draft pick compensation for later that winter.
"The Mets expect someone to eventually blink," ESPN's Jayson Stark wrote at the time.
In the end, despite talks repeatedly breaking down during the previous month, it was the Giants that caved and met Alderson's asking price.
"We didn't think Wheeler was going to impact our situation in the immediate future," Sabean later told reporters. "Quite frankly, it's our job to find another Wheeler or develop another Wheeler. Once we decided we weren't going to part with position players, we decided to go down the path of trading him."
The swap of Wheeler for Beltran was officially announced July 11, during which teams were off in advance of the following night's All-Star Game.
Wheeler immediately reported to the Single-A St. Lucie Mets, though he would quickly elevate later that summer to pitch for Double-A Binghamton.
As had been the case during his final three years with the Mets, Beltran struggled to remain healthy and missed his first 13 games for the Giants with a wrist injury. However, when he did play, he did well, hitting .323 with a .369 OBP, seven home runs and 18 RBI during 167 at bats.
At the time of the trade, Beltran had the sixth-best OBP, was 10th in total bases, sixth in doubles, home runs and RBI and had the third most WAR in Mets history.
"I felt personally that in the years that I was healthy, I had my best years in baseball with the Mets," Beltran said before again becoming a free agent. "It's unfortunate that we had good teams and we just couldn't win. That part really made me sad, but at the same time, my experience was good."
The Mets had a .521 winning percentage in games played with Beltran. The Giants, on the other hand, went 25-32 after the trade and finished eight games behind the Diamondbacks in the NL West. Beltran then left San Francisco as a free agent and, because he was acquired by trade, they couldn't offer him arbitration or get draft pick compensation when he signed with the Cardinals.
Meanwhile, at the start of the following season, Baseball America considered Wheeler to be Alderson's best prospect. Wheeler was also considered the 21st-best prospect in baseball by MLB.com. He represented the Mets during that summer's All-Star Futures Game and even topped fellow pitching prospect Matt Harvey, who would soon make his big-league debut.
By the start of 2013, the year Harvey took baseball by storm, Wheeler was ranked sixth on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects. He spent the early part of 2013 season in Triple-A and later that summer would undergo the first of many exams on his pitching arm.
Wheeler finally made his major league debut on June 18, 2013, in what was the second game of a day-night doubleheader against the Braves at Turner Field. Harvey started the day's first game.
He finished 2013 with a 3.42 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in 17 starts. He returned in 2014 to throw his first full season and posted a 3.54 ERA and 1.32 WHIP with 187 strikeouts during 185.1 innings.
However, he was shut down the following spring and it was later announced that would be having Tommy John surgery on a torn ulnar collateral ligament.
As a result of his recovery from surgery, he missed all of 2015, during which Harvey returned from his own Tommy John surgery and the team advanced as far as the World Series. The next season, during which the Mets again made the playoffs, Wheeler was derailed during his rehab due to a mild flexor strain in his right arm. The MRI showed no damage, but he struggled to get back on a mound and again missed his chance to pitch for the Mets in the postseason.
In 2017, Wheeler finally found his way back to a big-league mound and pitched well for the Mets before again hitting the DL with biceps tendinitis. In a second attempt to return, Wheeler again hit the DL due to a stress reaction in his right arm. He was again shut down and ended 2017 with a 5.21 ERA in 86 plus innings. This time, the Mets didn't make the postseason.
The Mets again struggled in 2018, but Wheeler did not. Finally healthy, and motivated by the team signing Jason Vargas to compete for a spot in the rotation, Wheeler excelled in spring training.
Although Vargas began the year on the DL, Alderson -- in his final season as GM-- chose to send Wheeler to Triple A and instead put Seth Lugo in the rotation.
Wheeler made just one start in the minors and quickly returned to the big leagues, entered the rotation and never looked back, realizing the potential put upon him several years earlier in San Francisco.
He finished 2018 with a 3.31 ERA, (3.25 FIP) and 1.12 WHIP with 179 strikeouts and the lowest percentage of hard-hit balls (24.8 percent) in the league. As a result, given the Mets' struggles in 2019 and him being a free agent this winter, Wheeler spent much of the past 12 months the subject of trade rumors.
But now Wheeler and the Mets have new life together. And even if it doesn't result in a miracle playoff run, the door is not shut on Wheeler remaining in Queens in 2020 and beyond.
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!