To state the obvious, this season hasn’t gone according to plan for the Mets. They’re the owners of a 34-36 record, staring at a 5 1/2-game deficit in their division and a five-game mark for the National League’s second wild card. First-time general manager Brodie Van Wagenen boldly suggested over the winter the Mets would take on all comers in 2019, but his roster has instead spun its wheels for a couple months.
Barring a turnaround leading up to the July 31 trade deadline, the Mets may have to consider selling off players they deem nonessential to their future – perhaps to boost an inadequate farm system. As things stand, the Mets aren’t giving up on buying, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network. If the team does a 180 on that mindset, though, it’ll have an intriguing trade chip in starter Zack Wheeler. The right-hander’s on many teams’ radars, including the crosstown rival Yankees’, according to Heyman.
The 29-year-old Wheeler’s in his final season of team control, in which he’s making a reasonable $5.975MM. The fact that he’s affordable enhances his trade value, though this hasn’t been a banner contract year in terms of results for Wheeler.
After missing most of 2015-17 because of injuries, the former Tommy John surgery patient returned last year to fire 182 1/3 innings of 3.31 ERA/3.25 FIP ball. This season, though, his 4.87 ERA through 88 2/3 frames ranks eighth worst among 81 qualified major league starters. Along the way, Wheeler’s average exit velocity against has gone from 84.7 mph to 87.8 mph and his hard-hit rate has risen from 27.1 percent to 34.4 since 2018, according to Statcast. Better contact against Wheeler has led to more balls leaving the yard. Wheeler yielded home runs on a paltry 8.1 percent of fly balls a year ago, but he’s now at 14.1.
Despite the red flags in Wheeler’s production, there are clear reasons for hope. With a 97 mph average fastball and a sinker that typically clocks in at 96, he remains one of the hardest-throwing starters in baseball. Wheeler’s velo has helped him increase his strikeout rate from 8.84 per nine in 2018 to a career-high 10.05 this season, while his swinging-strike percentage (11.2) and walk rate (2.64) also represent personal bests. Although Wheeler’s not getting as many ground balls as he did earlier in his career, his GB percentage (44.4) is still above average, as is his 12 percent infield fly rate. Unsurprisingly, the gap between his weighted on-base average against/expected wOBA (.307/.296) indicates he has deserved somewhat better to this point.
While this season hasn’t gone to Wheeler’s liking, it seems fair to say he’s an above-average major league starter. He’d therefore be one of the best starters on the block this summer if the Mets were to put him there, trailing Matthew Boyd but perhaps ranking in the vicinity of Marcus Stroman and Madison Bumgarner. However, it’ll be a moot point if the Mets decide to retain Wheeler, which seems to be their intention as of now. Plenty can change in the next month and a half, though.