The bittersweet run to the World Series is still fresh on the minds of the New York Mets and their fans. The Mets acquired just enough offense at the trade deadline and rode a tidal wave of outstanding pitching all the way to the Fall Classic. As the Mets head into 2016 there are very few question marks facing their pitching staff.
Naturally, the rotation will be anchored by Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz. Jon Niese was jettisoned to Pittsburgh for Neil Walker, and the ageless wonder Bartolo Colon is back for another season. A solid middle relief core remains largely in tact and Jeurys Familia returns as the closer after a breakout 2015 season. One question does remain; how does Zack Wheeler fit into the plans for the 2016 New York Mets?
Wheeler was forced to watch the Mets’ run to the NL pennant from the sidelines as he was recovering Tommy John surgery. The once can’t-miss prospect now faces a bit of an uncertain future as he works his way back to health. Wheeler has been solid over his first two years in New York, but he has not experienced the meteoric rise to stardom like Harvey, deGrom and Syndergaard. In 49 starts over 2013 and 2014, Wheeler has posted an 18-16 record with a 3.50 ERA. Looking deeper, he’s averaged nearly a strikeout per inning, but has also struggled with his control, at nearly four walks per nine innings pitched. Most teams would be eagerly awaiting the return of a 25-year-old starter who has, at a minimum, proven to be a very capable option. The Mets however are facing some very interesting decisions as to how Wheeler fits into their plans next season and beyond.
It is no secret that the Wheeler has been available via trade since the middle of last season. Wheeler, of course, was the key piece heading to the Milwaukee Brewers in the legendarily torpedoed trade for Carlos Gomez. Rumors are swirling yet again around this offseason, as GM Sandy Alderson has made it known that Wheeler is available for the right price. On the surface, it seems the Mets should deal from a position of strength (pitching), to help bolster their offense, specifically a power-hitting outfielder.
I am of the belief that the Mets should hold on to Wheeler for the 2016 season and beyond. After a deep run in the playoffs, the top four expected starters in the rotation are coming off career highs in innings pitched. Wouldn’t it be nice to have Wheeler to plug into the rotation in the event of an injury or to give one of their other pitchers a few extra days off in the second half of the season? With playoff aspirations once again, it would be naïve of the Mets to think they will go through another long season without needing a pitcher of Wheeler’s pedigree. Additionally, as Wheeler rounds into form, he would be a welcome addition to the middle of the bullpen. He could also serve as an excellent swing man, similar to the work Yusmeiro Petit has offered the San Francisco Giants the past couple seasons. Furthermore, the Mets do not have any young impact arms waiting in the high levels of the minors. Granted, many of their former top prospects are major contributors to the Major League squad, but the Mets did trade away much of their remaining depth in the minors to bolster their postseason run last year.
Prior to his injury, Wheeler was just beginning to scratch the surface on the potential that made him the sixth overall pick in the 2009 draft. The Mets are in an enviable position where they can wait for Wheeler to fully recover from his surgery before placing him back in the rotation. New York would be wise to hold onto a premium asset, and reap the rewards of their patience for years to come.