As the Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline was approaching its crescendo last Friday afternoon, the New York Mets were still looking to upgrade their offense. Then, at 3:45 p.m, a deal was struck, sending slugging outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to Queens in exchange for two minor-leaguer pitchers. The offense was bolstered and hope prevailed.
In the process, oft-injured pitcher Zack Wheeler remained with the organization.
Just days prior to the Cespedes acquisition, a reported trade that would have sent both Wheeler and Wilmer Flores to the Milwaukee Brewers for outfielder Carlos Gomez fell through. Questions about Gomez’s hip led to the Mets getting cold feet and not wanting to complete the proposed swap. Knowing he was a prominent point of discussion in trade talks, the 25-year-old Wheeler made a plea to Mets’ GM, Sandy Alderson.
“I told him I know it’s a business and he has a job to do, but I’d really like to be here because of what’s about to happen. I’ve been here a couple of years and want to see it through.”
Wheeler’s stint with the Mets organization began in mid-2011, when he was acquired from the San Francisco Giants in exchange for outfielder Carlos Beltran. With the Giants trying to add offense coming of a World Series winning season in 2010, the pressure was on San Francisco to repeat. Therefore, they traded one of their best pitching prospects to acquire a half-season of Beltran’s bat.
Despite Beltran’s productive.323 batting average with 7 HR and 18 RBI in 44 games, the Giants failed to make the postseason or repeat as champions. In the process, Wheeler was no longer Giants’ property and Beltran departed the Bay Area to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Fast forward four years later, Wheeler is nervously sitting near a phone in Florida, rehabbing his surgically reconstructed elbow as he finds the words to convince Alderson to not trade him.
“I know that doesn’t happen every day and I was nervous about doing it. But I figured it was the best way to get it across that I wanted to stay and be a part of this team’s winning future.”
Two years after the trade, Wheeler made his Mets debut in mid-2013. He showed much of the promise that both Mets executives and fans heard of, going 7-5 with a 3.42 ERA in 100 innings. Then, in 2014, Wheeler was stalwart in the Mets’ rotation, going 11-11 with a 3.54 ERA in 185-and-one-third innings. While his control (3.9 BB/9 during his career) was still a work in progress, Wheeler had the make-up of a bonafide ace.
As Alderson was on the phone most of last week, he says that Wheeler’s phone call “actually had quite an impact.” It’s not everyday that an athlete picks up a phone and calls the person who essentially controls their fate and asks to stay put. Yet, Alderson is able to humanize the entire ordeal in speaking to Carig, stating that a bond forms with the people you spend so much time with.
“Again, if you go back to Wednesday and even this conversation, we’re talking about human beings. We all develop an attachment to each other and whatever capacity we serve, so it’s hard.”
The “winning future” Wheeler mentioned appears bright as the Mets currently sit in first place in the National League East, one game ahead of the Washington Nationals. However, Wheeler will not be able to contribute to the team this season as he underwent Tommy John surgery in Spring Training. Yet, whenever he does make a return, he could end up another superhero in the Mets rotation.
With Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Jon Niese, and Wheeler in the fold, the Mets could arguably have the best rotation in baseball. A rotation that Hall of Famer John Smoltz said is better than the dominant Atlanta Braves’ rotations of the 1990s. That is, if, Wheeler manages to successfully complete his rehab.
He is expected to return to the mound early next season.
[Image by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images]