The Mets will extend a one-year, $17.8MM qualifying offer to right-hander Zack Wheeler before today’s 5pm ET deadline, general manager Brodie Van Wagenen announced at today’s press conference to introduce new manager Carlos Beltran (h/t: Joel Sherman of the New York Post, on Twitter).
That’s been the expected outcome for several months now, and Wheeler is widely expected to reject the offer in search of a more lucrative deal in free agency. If and when Wheeler does sign a new contract elsewhere, the Mets will be entitled to a compensatory pick in the 2020 draft.
Wheeler, 29, should have little trouble trouncing that $17.8MM, one-year offer in free agency. The market features a pair of clear-cut No. 1 starters in Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, but Wheeler is very arguably the No. 3 free-agent arm of the winter and will likely be treated as such by several teams. As laid out recently by MLBTR’s Connor Byrne, Wheeler is the second-hardest-throwing starter on the market (trailing only Cole), and no free-agent starter limited hard contact better than Wheeler in 2019. He also ranks in the top 10 among free agents in terms of highest strikeout percentage and lowest walk percentage.
While some may point to Wheeler’s 3.96 ERA in 2019 and zero in too heavily on that figure, his overall body of work over the past two seasons is largely excellent. In his past 55 Major League starts, Wheeler has pitched to a collective 3.47 ERA (3.27 FIP) with 9.0 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 0.82 HR/9 and a 43.1 percent ground-ball rate. He’s done so while playing in front of a porous defense that ranks 29th among MLB teams with a ghastly -169 Defensive Runs Saved across the past two seasons.
Qualifying offer notwithstanding, it’d be a surprise to see Wheeler command anything less than a strong three-year deal, and even that’s a rather cautious and conservative outlook. The demand for pitching among contenders will be strong, and Wheeler is trending up at a time when the trade market offers virtually nothing in terms of top-tier arms. For clubs looking to add a starter with front-of-the-rotation upside but unwilling to approach the $30MM+ annual salaries that Cole and Strasburg will likely command, Wheeler and lefty Madison Bumgarner are the next-best options.