The Mets were seemingly exploring all options as both buyers and sellers leading up to the trade deadline, including the possibility of signing Zack Wheeler to an extension and (presumably then) trading Noah Syndergaard. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal had the original report about the Mets’ interest in extending Wheeler, and in a longer piece (subscription required), Rosenthal notes that Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen actually did broach a long-term deal with Wheeler’s agent. However, “the conversations failed to progress,” and Wheeler is still on track to reach free agency after the season.
It isn’t any surprise that the two sides didn’t link up, if for no other reason than it’s rare to see a pending free agent sign a midseason extension. Usually, such deals are completed before Opening Day (or perhaps shortly into April) in the player’s final season under contract. With over two-thirds of the season in the books, however, it likely would’ve taken a real sweetheart of an offer from the Mets to convince Wheeler to forego his shot at the open market, particularly since he stands to land a rich deal. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes recently slotted Wheeler fourth in his latest power ranking of the 2019-20 free agent class.
If anything, Wheeler’s stock has only risen since the trade deadline. The right-hander has tossed 15 shutout innings over his last two starts, continuing his career-long trend of pitching better in the second half of the season. For all of 2019, Wheeler has a 4.20 ERA, 9.62 K/9, 46.3% grounder rate, 4.26 K/BB rate, and .297 xwOBA over 139 1/3 innings, with ERA indicators (3.44 FIP, 3.74 xFIP, 3.93 SIERA) hinting that he is outperforming his actual ERA.
Even before his two post-deadline starts boosted his numbers, Wheeler was still generating a lot of trade interest, though no team was prepared to meet the Mets’ “high, high expectations” (as one team official told Rosenthal) placed on any trade offer for Wheeler, Syndergaard, or any other player who might have been available. The asking price was high enough even to deter teams who might have been willing to overpay for Wheeler — one rival executive tells Rosenthal that his club was prepared to make a “stupid” offer to add him to their rotation before the deadline.
As Rosenthal notes, this “stupid” offer (and possibly other offers from other teams) would likely have given the Mets more in return for Wheeler than the compensatory draft pick they’d be in line to receive if Wheeler signed elsewhere this winter after rejecting a qualifying offer. Like so many other free agents in recent years, Wheeler’s market could be somewhat impacted by a qualifying offer (a one-year deal in the range of $18MM+), though the odds are good right now that he’d reject the QO in search of a longer-term contract.
The Mets ended up being buyers rather than sellers at the deadline, adding Marcus Stroman from the Blue Jays and holding onto the rest of their starting staff. At the moment, it’s hard to argue with results, as New York was already on a hot streak going into the deadline that has now extended to a run of 13 wins over their last 14 games. If the Mets did plan to make a playoff push, however, Rosenthal wonders why Stroman ended up being the only move, as the club didn’t address other needs (i.e. relief pitching, center field), and also traded another starter in Jason Vargas to the Phillies, another team in wild card contention. It’s possible the Mets could be active on the August waiver wire, though Rosenthal also wonders if the $206MM luxury tax threshold could have been a consideration — Roster Resource has the Mets’ luxury tax number at just under $203.22MM.