This is the first year where there will only be one trade deadline. Previously, teams could make trades until August 31 by placing the player on revocable waivers, but now any trade needs to be completed before July 31. One of the ideas behind eliminating August trades is to have more teams view themselves as contenders and make more competitive trades, but there are some unexpected side effects. One of which is that without the ability to make a waiver trade, the Mets’ chances of trading Zack Wheeler have been heavily impacted.
Wheeler was one of the most coveted starting pitchers on the trade market before he went on the injured list with shoulder fatigue. Wheeler’s 4.69 ERA is a little bloated, but his strikeout and walk rates have both improved from his breakout 2018, and his velocity has ticked up. He’s struggled with home runs, and Jay Jaffe of FanGraphs outlined how that’s a problem that shouldn’t be ignored. Still, there’s a lot to like about Wheeler.
This injury doesn’t preclude a trade from happening. The Mets are insistent that this is nothing major, and he’ll be back as soon as he’s eligible to return on July 23. If that were coming from any other team, we could take them at their word, but since it’s a team with a history of downplaying and mishandling injury, we need to take that with a Mr. Met head-sized grain of salt.
Any team who trades for Wheeler may be tempting fate injury-wise, but if he’s healthy, he could slot into any contending rotation and make it better. The Yankees’ search for rotation help is well documented, and a crosstown trade would be amenable to Wheeler, a self-proclaimed homebody. Such a trade would feel like a last resort for the Yanks, though. It seems they would prefer a pitcher with another year of control like Marcus Stroman or Robbie Ray.
The Brewers might be a sensible landing spot for Wheeler. They haven’t gotten quite the same amount of production from Jhoulys Chacin or Freddy Peralta. Corbin Burnes’ 2019 has been disastrous. If Wheeler’s injury drives his asking price down, rolling the dice on Wheeler might be what Milwaukee needs to right the ship and chase down the Cubs.
The Braves could afford to be patient with Wheeler. Atlanta is in pretty good shape to win the NL East, but their rotation looks shaky for October. They’ll need some form of insurance if Mike Foltynewicz can’t return to form.
Even if Wheeler makes sense for several teams, the question of his health makes a trade unlikely at this point. It’s not out of the question, but one has to think that teams would rather stay away from a rental who might not be able to pitch. The Mets might be dissatisfied with the offers they receive and decide to hang onto him instead. If Wheeler isn’t traded, it’s likely that he will follow in Hyun-jin Ryu’s footsteps and accept a qualifying offer so he can use 2020 to prove he can stay healthy.
In all likelihood, Wheeler’s escape from New York has been postponed. Risk averse teams probably don’t want to take a chance on a hurt pitcher when there are other options on the market. If he does go, he may prove to be a worthwhile gambit.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.