Dealing with Wheeler Gets Minnesota an Ace
Image courtesy of © Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY SportsEveryone knows what the top of the market will look like. Gerrit Cole is going to command a return that could make even Mike Trout and Bryce Harper blush. He’s been nothing short of exceptional, just turned 29-years-old, and may still have another gear to reach. There’s no guarantee that Stephen Strasburg becomes the second premiere arm, but logic suggests he’ll opt out of the final four years and $100 million of his current deal. Every team in baseball should be tripping over themselves to offer these guys a payday. If the Twins aren’t in on them it’s a problem, but if they get turned down anyway, they’ll need to pivot.
For the sake of this argument let’s assume that Derek Falvey offers either of those pitchers a blank check and neither takes the bait. All is not lost with Zack Wheeler still being in the picture. He’s not the arm either of those pitches is, and he is older than Cole, but the former Mets hurler may be the most underappreciated talent looking for a new home.
A former first-round pick, Wheeler has been a model of consistency when healthy. In his three full seasons he’s pitched at least 180 innings with strong strikeout numbers and an ERA firmly in the mid-3’s. For New York in 2019 his ERA crept up to a 3.96 mark, but the 3.48 FIP suggests he was likely victimized by one of the worst defensive teams in baseball.
Over the course of his career Wheeler has avoided the long ball and kept baserunners to a minimum. He’s not going to challenge for the league lead in strikeouts but the 195 in 2019 was a new career high. With the Mets he was consistently a 10% whiff rate thrower, and he’s expanded his chase rates each of the past two seasons. With an average fastball of 97.1 mph this past season, Wes Johnson should be salivating at the opportunity to take him to the next level.
You can bet that the Twins have done a decent amount of background work on Wheeler already. They were in talks with Brodie Van Wagenen regarding Noah Syndergaard, and there’s no doubt that Zack’s name likely was added into the mix. Now costing only dollars, he doesn’t come with the price tag of coveted pieces from within the system. The ability to add a starter with his repertoire and upward projectability is a rare scenario, and one that Minnesota can’t miss on.
Paying for pitching on the open market is largely a landmine of failed opportunity. Teams either find themselves looking to overextend for the best option or having to settle for a patchwork piece that doesn’t fit the mold. Developing pitching is the greatest path to sustainable success and being able to acquire someone like Wheeler who provides a fair mix of pay and future potential looks like a slam dunk.
Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg represent the outlier opportunity to add one of the 5-10 aces in baseball to your staff. Someone like Wheeler gives the Twins an avenue to have two aces of their staff and allow them to battle each other for that top spot.
- brvama, DocBauer, SF Twins Fan and 3 others like this