Mets Rejecting Zack Wheeler for Justin Upton Trade Is the Right Move
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Although the Mets would still like to acquire an impact outfielder before the start of the season, they’ve made it clear that Wheeler, the organization’s top prospect, won’t be going anywhere. And despite the intrigue and excitement of potentially landing Upton, who will earn $38.5 million over the next three years, the Mets absolutely made the correct decision.
A first-round draft pick (No. 6 overall) of the Giants in 2009, Wheeler, 22, was acquired by the Mets at the 2011 trade deadline in exchange for a one-month rental of Carlos Beltran. Regarded as one of the game’s better pitching prospects and a consensus top-50 prospect headed into the 2012 season, the right-hander continued his ascent toward the major leagues by excelling at two advanced levels.
After he registered a 3.26 ERA with 117/43 K/BB in 116 innings at Double-A Binghamton, the Mets promoted Wheeler to Triple-A Buffalo at the same time Matt Harvey was promoted to the major leagues. Although he made only six starts at the level, Wheeler still registered a 3.27 ERA with 31/16 K/BB in 33 innings.
A 6’4” right-hander with an athletic and projectable frame, Wheeler’s explosive delivery and lightning-quick arm add deception to his mature, four-pitch mix. His fastball will sit 93-96 mph and jumps on opposing hitters, primarily right-handers, due to its late, arm-side life.
His 12-to-6 downer curveball gives him a second plus offering that induces whiffs and buckles knees. His slider and changeup lag behind the fastball and curveball; however, they both flash the potential to be average to above-average offerings.
Wheeler’s also adept at stifling the running game. He understands how to vary his looks, utilizes a quick delivery from the stretch and showcases awareness on the mound beyond his years.
Wheeler is one of only a few pitching prospects with the ceiling of a No. 1 starter in the major leagues. In fact, in my ranking of the top-50 prospects headed into the 2013 season—which will be published near the end of spring training—the 22-year-old will rank as baseball’s No. 7 overall prospect.
After finishing the year at Triple-A Buffalo, the Mets will presumably send him back to the level to begin the season. However, if the right-hander continues to thrive—there’s no reason to believe he won’t—it may not be long until he’s ready for the major leagues.
If the Mets were poised to compete for a playoff spot in 2013, then perhaps this trade would make more sense and be worth exploring. More specifically, the deal would be worth considering if Upton represented the one All-Star-caliber player capable of turning the team into a contender. However, that’s simply not the case.
After trading R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays this offseason in exchange for a prospect package that included catcher Travis d’Arnaud and right-hander Noah Syndergaard, the Mets are preparing for an infusion of young talent in the major leagues over the next two seasons.
Plus, the last thing that the Mets want to do is make the same mistake with Wheeler as the Giants did in 2011.
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