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Exploring Zack Wheeler as Oakland A’s trade target

The Mets right-hander would be a big splash for the A’s rotation.

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Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The MLB trade deadline is one day away, and the Oakland A’s could use some more pitching. They already established themselves as buyers this month by acquiring starter Homer Bailey to bolster their rotation, and reliever Jake Diekman to strengthen their bullpen, but they’ll need more help than that. They’re in postseason position right now with the second Wild Card, so contention isn’t some long shot dream. It’s a real thing and this is the moment to seize it.

Indeed, Oakland doesn’t appear to be done shopping. After acquiring Diekman on Saturday, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that the A’s “do not figure to stop” with just their current pair of pitching pickups, and that “they have explored adding another starting pitcher.” He then mentioned Mets starter Zack Wheeler as one of their targets.

The A’s have multiple other connections to Wheeler, too. On Saturday, Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle reported that Oakland had “made calls” on the right-hander. By Monday evening they were still on the list of suitors, albeit “on the periphery” of that list, says Andy Martino of SNY.

This is the strongest A’s rumor we’ve heard this month about any player, so it’s high time we took a closer look. Also make sure to check out our previous trade rumors posts:

Unlike with our previous rotation candidates, there is no question about Wheeler’s availability. The Mets, who stand at 50-55 with little hope of contending this summer, were expected to be sellers but then shocked the baseball world by snagging Marcus Stroman from the Blue Jays. However, they made that move with an eye toward 2020, since Stroman has another year of team control. Wheeler is a free agent at the end of this season.

While there was initial talk of signing him to an extension, on Sunday insider Jeff Passan called that idea “increasingly unlikely,” and suggested at least one of Wheeler and/or Noah Syndergaard will be dealt. Martino said he “still [expects Wheeler] to get traded,” and Tuesday morning insider Jon Heyman said Syndergaard is on the market but that the Mets “still seem much more likely to deal Wheeler.” So, Wheeler is definitely on the block, and it really sounds like he’ll be headed somewhere.

Of course, that place doesn’t necessarily have to be Oakland. Martino lists the Astros, Braves, Rays, and Yankees as possibilities, and mentions the A’s and Brewers as well. On Monday, Rosenthal reported that the Astros were “working hard” to get a deal done, and Martino said that a rival executive “fully expect[s]” Houston to come away with him. But it ain’t over till it’s over, and apparently the Astros are also talking about Madison Bumgarner now, reports Tim Brown of Yahoo.

Quick look

Wheeler was originally drafted by none other than the Giants, with the sixth overall pick of the 2009 draft. At the 2011 deadline they traded him to New York for Carlos Beltran, but the plan didn’t work as S.F. still missed the postseason anyway. Wheeler eventually made it up to the majors in 2013, and immediately looked like a young rising star as expected.

But then injury struck, in the form of Tommy John surgery. The recovery cost him two full seasons in 2015-16, and upon his return in ‘17 he posted a 5.21 ERA in 17 starts. But he’s bounced back since then with strong performances in the last two campaigns.

Wheeler, 2018-19: 3.87 ERA, 306⅔ ip, 316 Ks, 89 BB, 31 HR, 3.41 FIP

His ERA has jumped up this summer, but there’s every reason to believe that’s a small-sample fluke considering that the rest of his numbers are sparkling across the board.

Wheeler, 2019: 4.71 ERA, 124⅓ ip, 137 Ks, 34 BB, 17 HR, 3.65 FIP

His .302 xwOBA from Statcast is also far better than league average for starters (.320), and along the way he’s thrown 11 quality starts in 20 tries, also well above an average rate. He can consistently pitch deep into games, which is something the A’s could use to help take some heat off their shaky bullpen — he’s finished seven innings nine times this year, and six innings 15 times, with his shortest outing of the season clocking in at 4⅔ frames.

Furthermore, Wheeler does all that in style. His fastball averages nearly 97 mph and has touched triple-digits at least a couple times this year, so he can bring the heat with the best of them. But he’s also more than just a big number on a radar gun, as Statcast says his arsenal includes six different pitches (four-seam, sinker, slider, curve, change, splitter). Bonus points for pumping all that velocity and managing all those secondaries while still finding the plate enough to keep the walks below 3 BB/9 each of the last two years.

The 29-year-old has star-level stuff and has shown flashes of his ceiling the last couple summers. If he were to end up in Oakland then he’d immediately be the A’s best starter, by a huge margin. This wouldn’t just be a depth move to add reliable innings, but rather a true splash for an impact acquisition.

The cost

For this, we turn to our friends at Baseball Trade Values for a reference guide. In terms of the Mets’ needs, I’m no expert on their organization, and really who is? Does anyone actually know what the Mets are doing at any given time, including they themselves? And not in an enigmatic mad scientist way like the A’s or Rays, where the strategies are often just too cutting-edge for the rest of us to understand initially, but in more of a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ fashion that often involves eating crayons in the corner of the room.

However, the Mets have a superstar rookie at 1B, an albatross contract at 2B, and five of their top eight prospects are infielders, so let’s look mostly (but not exclusively) at pitching and outfielders.

Between Wheeler’s strong projections for the rest of the season, plus his modest salary, but also his status as a two-month rental with no further team control, BTV has his surplus value at 9.8. That’s notably higher than Tanner Roark (3.6) but also far below what it would have cost for Marcus Stroman (26.8) or Mike Minor (20.3). However, for what it’s worth, this has turned out to be a buyer’s market so far, and Stroman fetched far less than BTV expected (return package was 16.9).

Here’s a list of some A’s prospects whose values fall within Wheeler’s range (note that BTV has updated values since our Stroman/Minor post, so some of these will look different than they did in our last discussion):

  • OF Lazaro Armenteros (12.4)
  • OF Austin Beck (11.7)
  • SS Jorge Mateo (10.0)
  • OF Dustin Fowler (7.6)
  • OF Jameson Hannah (7.4)
  • 3B Sheldon Neuse (7.3)
  • SS Nick Allen (5.8)
  • RHP Daulton Jefferies (3.1)
  • RHP James Kaprielian (2.9)
  • RHP Grant Holmes (2.3)

The A’s could also try to package Wheeler with a big reliever, like closer Edwin Diaz or setup man Seth Lugo, but they’re both significantly more valuable than Wheeler because of long-term team control. Adding one of them would change this discussion entirely, such that the reliever would be the headliner and Wheeler would be more like the throw-in. Let’s just stick with Wheeler for now.

With a bidding war possibly brewing, could the Mets force an overpay and nab Armenteros out of the deal? Or can the A’s get it done with just Fowler or Hannah or Neuse, maybe with a lesser pitcher on the side? Or will the buyer’s market continue to yield low returns, such that some package like Holmes/Kap is enough?

If the answer lies somewhere in the range of that last paragraph, then Athletics Nation will be excited to finally add a star-level talent to the rotation. There would also be some poetic justice to riding a former Giants top prospect to October, after they won rings using several beloved A’s greats. Suggest your trade proposals in the comments, and vote in the poll for the one you think is most realistic.


Which of these trades is the most realistic?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Wheeler —FOR— one of (Armenteros or Beck)
    (80 votes)
  • 28%
    Wheeler —FOR— one of (Fowler or Hannah or Neuse) + a pitcher (Holmes, etc.)
    (188 votes)
  • 29%
    Wheeler —FOR— one of (Fowler or Hannah or Neuse)
    (192 votes)
  • 7%
    Wheeler —FOR— two of (Jefferies, Holmes, Kap)
    (48 votes)
  • 22%
    Bigger deal to include Wheeler + a reliever (Diaz or Lugo)
    (144 votes)
652 votes total Vote Now