Reese Kaplan -- The Zack Wheeler Dilemma In Detail


Regular readers of this site know that in the afternoons Mack posts open ended discussion questions.  Recently one came up about pitcher Zack Wheeler and what the Mets should do with him.  I was on the opinion you don’t break the bank given his inconsistency and injury history, but do certainly make the effort to put an offer on the table while no one else can compete with you.  Wheeler will likely turn it down to test the market, but at least for once the club can hold its head high and say it tried. 

Unfortunately, I started researching Zack Wheeler’s prospective contract for next year and the numbers are a bit scary.  The lowest I’d seen was a Nathan Eovaldi comparison of four years and $68 million dollars.  That’s $17 million per year.  To me that’s a lot of cabbage to drive a guy back to Queens with a career 42-37 record and a 3.86 ERA.  His current 2019 performance is below that level at 9-7 and 4.40.  He had the misfortune of an ill-timed trip to the IL just before the trade deadline which removed that option from the table.  Whether or not it would have made sense to deal him away is a debate for another day, but without anyone likely willing to take a gamble on him with yet another injury right at the end of July, the Mets wound up “stuck” with him for the remainder of the year as there is no post-trading deadline option for August deals anymore.  That means they have three options going forward.  They can let him go for nothing, make a Qualifying Offer of about $19 million to try to ensure draft pick compensation should he sign elsewhere or make him such an attractive multi-year contract option that he won’t test the free agency market. 

As you peruse the various free agent projection sites you find that the prospect of Wheeler getting “only” $17 million per year is a pipe dream.  Some sites have him ranked as high as the 4th best free agent out there, so perhaps that $19 million QO is not the craziest idea in the world.  He’s ranked ahead of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Cole Hamels and Dallas Keuchel.  The only pitchers ranked ahead of him are Gerrit Cole and Madison Bumgarner.  Frankly, I don’t see ranking Wheeler quite in the Cole/Bumgarner territory, but the case could be made he is indeed better that the next three.  Again, the questions about durability and consistency may temper his eventual paycheck. 

The Mets are really between the proverbial rock and a hard place.  They either pony up and overpay to keep Wheeler, or extend the QO and hope the compensatory draft pick turns out to be a better bet than was Kevin Plawecki.  Would you pay him, for example. 4 years and $90 million?  Would he take it?  That’s a lot of dough for a middle of the rotation starter, one who has only had one extended streak of dominance in his career at the end of the 2018 season.

The real problem is if he does leave, the Mets will be rightfully skewered for not trading him away when they had the chance and letting him go with nothing to show for it.  Furthermore, the pipeline is bereft of promising starters at the upper levels.  We have seen what Corey Oswalt, Chris Flexen, Walker Lockett, Drew Gagnon and others have done with limited opportunities.  There is no one blowing people away until you get down to the lower minors with folks like Tony Dibrell and Thomas Szapucki can make you smile about the future but they’re in A+ and A ball respectively…not likely to help for 2 or more years.  Franklyn Kilome is closer but is out for this year after Tommy John Surgery and will likely need a full 18 months of recovery time.

Now BVW could surprise as he did with the Marcus Stroman trade and perhaps bring us the fifth ace in the form of Gerrit Cole or Madison Bumgarner.  Cole is certainly intriguing, a year younger than Wheeler, coming off right now a 29-10 run for the Astros with two straight All-Star appearances and a 2.87 ERA over that span.  THAT is the kind of pitching worthy of over $20 million per year without blinking an eye.  The question is how to pay for him.  Granted, you will have about $24 million coming off the books in the ending contracts of Jason Vargas, Todd Frazier and Juan Lagares, so that could be an answer assuming you can convince the penurious Wilpons to expand the payroll enough to cover the salary increases due to other players on the roster. 

Bumgarner is going to turn 30 in 2020 like Wheeler, and sports an ERA for his career under 3.10.  The issue with him is some suspicions about decreased velocity and his trends have been going in the wrong direction.  Since his last All Star season of 2016 he has only pitched 17 and 21 starts during the following two years.  This year he’s on track for a full year’s worth of starts but is only pitching to an 8-7 record with a 3.63 ERA.  His price should fall considerably under what Cole will receive but still will likely exceed the amount given to Wheeler given his string of 4 straight All-Star appearances.

It’s a tough place to be with Wheeler and the critics are already pouncing.  If they do nothing, they lose.  If they extend the QO he could take it a’la Neil Walker.  They lost their window to trade him.  The minors do not appear to hold any answers and the other top free agents are not going to come cheaply.

So I will again ask the question posed by Mack...what should the Mets do regarding Zack Wheeler?


holmer said...

They should try and sign him to a 3-4 year deal at 18 million per. If he doesn't take it certainly make a qualifying offer. He is the entity we know and his spot in the rotation needs to be filled so why not fill it with a known quantity.

Tom Brennan said...

I agree with Holmer. Would love to see Cole, though.

Viper said...

At the very least they have to make him a qualifying offer. If he takes it, great as that fixes any issues with the rotation.

If he doesn't, then at least you get something back for him.

65M for 4 years with 20M team option might work.

Another thing that bringing back Wheeler does is that if the Mets tank in 2020, they can choose to either trade away Wheeler or Stroman or both.

TP said...

I will have to disagree. No way Wheeler is worth $18 million plus for one season. If they make the QO he will likely take it. I would offer a multi-year but it would be in the 3 year $36 million neighborhood. He has been a big disappointment this year, and pounded by quality teams like the Yanks and Braves. The only thing he has proven is a lack of consistency, which means a lack of dependability. He pay needs to reflect that.

Mack Ade said...

This is a hard call that is heightened by the fact that there is no one in Syracuse currently that could step up here.

In my continued 'not my money' theme, give him the QO and revisit this a year later.

Tom Brennan said...

TP, would you rather give him $19 million for one year, or $65/4, as Viper suggests. Given the frailty of pitchers, I would be happier with one year at $19. Lots of $$ for sure, and if there is a better FA alternative, I am all ears. Over the past 12 months, he has been very good, and part of that mid 4. ERA has to be the defense and pen.

Viper said...


Exactly, it is not my money so I don't care.
If the Mets lose Wheeler, they would still have to sign another starter but they have to know that at the end of 2020, they will probably lose Stroman as well.

So to me, this could work two ways.
1. Mets try to sign Wheeler to an extension.
2. Mets try to sign Stroman to an extension.

They need to get at least one of them signed. Then find a #5 type pitcher or use internal options until Szapucki is hopefully ready in 2021.

Seattle Steve said...

QO is their best alternative if they want to receive an draft choice...otherwise they have Gonzalez or Szapucki for the 5 hole next year.

Met monkey said...

I would be very curious to see how Harol's stuff plays with the biggies. Nothing is outstanding but his know-how. I saw him mowing people down in Coney Island back in 2016, and since have had a hunch and fondness for him over our traded-away prospect starters. If wheeler needs another short IL stint, I wish we could see Harol throw five or ten innings.

Mack Ade said...

Harol is an excellent pitcher but he has had difficulty making the transaction from one level to the next up the chain.

I agree that both he and Szapucki are SP5 options, but NOT in 2020

Mike Freire said...

Late to the party, but I don't see how you let him walk without at least a QO.

If he takes it, you have him locked up for roughly what it will cost (annually) to extend his contract, IMO. If he walks (likely), then you get something for him (draft pick).

He is WAY too inconsistent and a bit too fragile to invest what will amount to "ace" money.......I would rather extend Noah, honestly.

If ZW walks, we still have four solid starters for 2020 and some FA money for a replacement, if need be.

Mack Ade said...


There is another reason to offer him a QO...

The upcoming draft is stocked with +++ talent. It is projected to be one of the best in 20 years.

I would LOVE another draft pick if he says no to the offer.

Anonymous said...

Mack's Question on Wheeler contract is interesting and not so simple to figure.

If my call, I make Zach a three year offer at $45.0 million. The Mets have over $20.0 this off season of ending contracts that should be not renegotiated for 2020. Plus, they have a lot of really good and younger players playing 2019 on a one year contract. So there will be salary increases due starting in 2020 to consider.

When a player now in the post-steroid era turns 30, a good rule of thumb may be not to extend a new contract to any player beyond age 33.

I think Zachary Wheeler has proven himself here as a NY Met and deserves a three year offer. I hope he comes back in 2020 because right now the NY Mets have probably one of the top three rotations in all of MLB and that is really quiet a feat.

Anonymous said...

I was looking at the "possible 25-man" for this NY Mets team come 2020 ST. If all the pitchers here now were to come back in 2020(except for a few relievers who are on the bubble) then really only third base, two relievers, and two utility positions are actually open.

Third base and the outfield should be covered come 2020 ST.

I sort of get the impression (from my readings) that maybe the very best starter down in the Mets' MiLB may actually be lefty kid Kevin Smith AA. He appears to be right on track. The other starters down on the farm worth watching to me are: David Peterson, Tom Szupucki, and Harol Gonzalez. Corey Oswalt also had a very nice 2019 I thought.

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