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Red Sox Trade Target: Zack Wheeler

Rodriguez is down. So is Wright. Who knows with Pomeranz? With so many on the shelf, the Red Sox may need a starter.

Washington Nationals v New York Mets
Zack Wheeler has regained some of what he had back in 2014. Not much of it, but enough to be worth a look.
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Eduardo Rodriguez has a serious injury to a ligament in his right ankle. At minimum, he’ll be in a boot for at least two weeks and who knows how long the recovery process will take after that. If it’s as bad as it looked (and it looked really bad), he could miss well more than a month. The trade deadline, meanwhile, is in two weeks and a day.

Maybe Eduardo Rodriguez will be fine. Maybe Steven Wright, who is recovering from a knee injury that is taking longer than expected to get back to full health, will be too. Perhaps so will Drew Pomeranz, though his rehab performances have not inspired any confidence. Maybe we have no reason to be worried.

The Red Sox can’t afford to let July 31st pass without having a contingency plan, in case things don’t go perfectly. With that said, what type of target makes sense?

The ideal target is someone who can pitch 6 innings reliably, is a rental (or someone with very short control), costs relatively little to pay and to trade for. Additionally, I think a lot of people would breathe easier if the pitcher was right-handed, given the heavy left-handed skew our rotation presently boasts and the Yankees’ right-handed heavy lineup.

Zack Wheeler fits many of these qualifications. He’s not a rental, though, and it’s possible (though I can’t say how likely) he might cost more than one might initially assume based on his seasonal numbers. But more on that later.

Pittsburgh Pirates v New York Mets
Wheeler has gone 6+ innings in 9 of his last 11 starts, averaging 104.5 pitches per outing.
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

I didn’t think I’d be writing about the idea of acquiring Zack Wheeler ever, particularly after he missed 2015 and 2016 with injuries before pitching so poorly in 2017. For all intents and purposes, I believed he was just another victim of the New York Mets. Against the odds, however, Wheeler has looked decent in 2018.

Recently, in fact, he’s looked even better than decent. In his last 11 starts, dating back to May 22nd, Wheeler has posted a 3.63 ERA in 69 13 innings with solid peripherals (8.05 H/9, 0.65 HR/9, 2.99 BB/9, 8.83 K/9) in line with his seasonal numbers. Until this stretch, he had been underperforming his peripherals by a pretty brutal margin, finding himself a victim of poor home run luck, sequencing, and the New York Mets.

Zack Wheeler has looked like a good major league pitcher. And good major league pitchers aren’t cheap. I’m not going to pretend I have any idea where Wheeler’s trade value is right now, but the Mets don’t need to trade him, either. At least they don’t need to make this move just yet. He’s a cheap asset, who is under control through 2019. Additionally, if they trade Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard (and there have been whispers that this is possible) they’ll need arms to simply get through next season. Wheeler’s numbers have stabilized to where it may make more sense to hold him than trade him. He may be more valuable on the team than he would be in a trade (think Steven Wright).

Philadelphia Phillies v New York Mets
No, we are not getting deGrom. Don’t even think about it.
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

With that said, however, if they ask for some combination of top ten prospects (organizationally) and icing on top of that it could be worth it/ This is particularly true when considering the boon Wheeler could bring to not just the 2018, but 2019 Sox as well.

With Eduardo Rodriguez snake-bitten by injuries to this point in his career (the last time he threw 140+ innings was 2013), and Drew Pomeranz wholly unreliable at the time being (in addition to being a pending free agent), there’s a pretty decent bet that Wheeler would be able to positively factor into the rotation plans for both 2018 and 2019, as he’d represent a cheap option that would allow the Red Sox to save up for their godfather offer to Chris Sale at the end of the 2019 season, without going beyond the severe tax threshold (though I don’t think this is as big a deal as it’s been made out to be).

There also exists the idea of packaging Wheeler with another player, to get the types of talent the Mets would want back in return. The Red Sox have needs at second base, in the bullpen, and in the rotation. An upgrade at third base for 2018 may be welcome as well. A package of Zack Wheeler and Asdrubal Cabrera may not be sexy (it is not), but may represent the best kind of deal the Red Sox can make this trading season, as they grapple with both the severe luxury tax penalty, and their general lack of prospect depth.

Washington Nationals v New York Mets
Hello darkness, my old friend.
Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Another player the Red Sox could look to, instead of Cabrera, may be Jeurys Familia, though if there’s any reliever in the Mets pen I’m interested in, it’s Seth Lugo (but I’m not interested in his price, thank you). Either way, if Wheeler ends up bound for Boston, my bet is it would be part of a package deal. The Mets are a convenient trading partner, with every incentive to sell whatever can fetch any value.

It’s going to be a busy month for the Red Sox. It may well be that we go into September with Brian Johnson, and/or Hector Velazquez pitching significant innings. Hopefully, we won’t be relying on the same thing come October.