July 16: Wheeler has been formally placed on the IL, the Mets announced. An MRI did not reveal any structural damage, Healey reports, but it’s still uncertain how long Wheeler will be out. Healey tweets that Wheeler declined to put a timetable on his expected return.
July 15: The Mets will place right-hander and top trade candidate Zack Wheeler on the injured list today due to shoulder fatigue, reports Newsday’s Tim Healey (Twitter link). Lefty Steven Matz will start in place of Wheeler tomorrow.
It’s still not known precisely how Wheeler’s trade status and value will be impacted. Even if the move is backdated the maximum three days, Wheeler still won’t be able to return until July 23rd. As Healey points out, that’ll give him a maximum of two starts before the trade deadline even in a best-case scenario.
If all goes well, the Mets could still get a haul for their top rental piece. If Wheeler doesn’t bounce back rapidly, or shows anything worrying once he is back on the hill, then all bets are off.
All things considered, the timing couldn’t be much worse for the Mets. The club has endured a miserable season to this point, with rookie GM Brodie Van Wagenen recently acknowledging that the team has “low expectations” for the remainder of the year. The upcoming trade deadline seemingly offered a chance for the club to recoup a consolation prize or two by cashing in some veterans.
Wheeler is not only the team’s best pending free agent, he’s one of the top trade chips in all of baseball. The 29-year-old had finally moved past the health issues that dogged him earlier in his career, finding a new gear in his final two seasons before reaching the open market. While he only carries a 4.69 ERA this year, he has thrown harder than ever before, racked up an impressive 9.8 K/9 against 2.6 BB/9, and logged plenty of innings (119 over 19 starts).
Today’s news threatens to dent that profile of Wheeler as a deadline piece. Buying teams will be especially wary given his prior concerns and the lack of future contractual control. The Mets will have to hope that Wheeler is able to bounce right back and show he’s still throwing well. If not, their options could be limited, particularly given the lack of an August trade period to work with. Teams have in the past swung deals for injured players; the Rays’ 2013 acquisition of Jesse Crain comes to mind. But if Wheeler’s value is harmed sufficiently, it may well end up making greater sense for the team to hold tight and hope he throws well enough down the stretch to warrant a qualifying offer.