|Zack Wheeler pre-Tommy John Surgery. He will miss 2015 and the start of 2016 recovering from the injury.|
With the recent handling of the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast Leage by both of the Mets top pitching prospects Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, the continued relevance of Rafael Montero and an already-full rotation, Zack Wheeler's 2016 mid-season return will create yet another traffic jam in one of the NL's best staffs. Recovery from Tommy John surgery is a long and arduous process that typically takes longer than 12 months. In the case of Matt Harvey, he spent more than 18 on the road to pitching again. Wheeler will not have two off-seasons to recover like Matt Harvey did, though if Harvey continues to pitch like a Cy Young candidate, the Mets and other teams might look to the longer recovery as the reason for his immediate and dominant success.
I do not think it would be a good idea to give Wheeler 2016 mostly off, nor do I believe Wheeler would like that idea nor agree to it. However, I also see value both for his recovery and for the Mets by pitching him in the bullpen in 2016. His outings can be meticulously controlled, his innings will be far lower than any threshold they would set for him as a starter, and, frankly, his stuff plays in the bullpen. Big time. Zack Wheeler would be a dominant reliever and it allows the Mets to run a rotation in 2016 of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and whichever of Dillon Gee, Jon Niese and Rafael Montero proves the most valuable.
It gives the Mets a full year of evaluation--both of Wheeler and his recovery as well as the trio of Las Vegas prospects who would be rotation regulars on most teams. I do not mean to suggest this would be a permanent move. I believe that Zack Wheeler has upside somewhere between Homer Bailey and Zack Grienke and that sort of talent should not be wasted in the middle-to-late innings out of the bullpen. However, for 2016, that is where Zack Wheeler should pitch.
The move also strengthens a Met bullpen that is still in a state of flux. While, ideally, Vic Black and Bobby Parnell return and are effective, both are dealing with injuries that can nag, can be re-injured, and can threaten effectiveness both this season and next. While Familia has a hold on the closer's position for now, the Mets continue to give a lot of innings to pitchers like Alex and Carlos Torres, rookies like Erik Goeddel and Hansel Robles and veterans like Buddy Carlyle. While the bullpen has been extremely effective in 2015 thus far, it is far from an annual powerhouse. Putting Zack Wheeler as the set-up man in 2016 makes the late innings really tough for opposing team and solidified the unit as a whole.
(You can switch Robles for Carlos or Alex Torres, Erik Goeddel, Rafael Montero, Dillon Gee, Akeel Morris or anyone you fancy. My guy is Hansel Robles.)
That is a sick bullpen. Five of those guys regularly throw 96-98. The other two are pretty nifty lefties who have had no small degree of success in getting outs in the big leagues.
I am not certain that Wheeler's ultimate role is in the rotation. However, come 2017, I want him back in there. We might find that he is best suited for the bullpen. We also might have more injuries, regressions and poor performances which happen with young players and pretty regularly. We might need Wheeler back in the rotation come June of 2016. However, with the landscape the way it is now, give me Zack Wheeler in the 'pen. No one will care if he throws 25 pitches an inning. The Mets will be diligent about spacing his outings out to cater to his recovery. And, yea, it makes a sick, sick bullpen that will protect just about any lead the Mets give them.
What do you think? Would you pitch Zack Wheeler in the bullpen in 2016? What about Syndergaard in the bullpen late in 2015 to limit his innings? Answer in the comments below.