This season, the injury plague has spread throughout the Mets clubhouse much like it did in 2015. As soon as David Wright went down, the fan base started clamoring for a big time trade. Every fan has a pipe dream proposal where they just name a bunch of guys on the Mets top prospect list and assume the package will land the Mets a franchise type bat. But I’ve poured over the lists of prospective trade options as well as the Mets farm system, and I keep coming to the same conclusion. If the Mets want to land a big time bat that is under team control for more than just this season, the trade talks will begin and end with Zack Wheeler. For most fans, that price doesn’t seem to be a deterrent. Well it should be. Trading Zack Wheeler would be a mistake, and it’s a price the Mets cannot afford to pay if they want to remain competitive over the next few seasons.
In 2015, the Mets had a pitching surplus. They had arguably the top rotation in the game and two frontline starter types in Zack Wheeler and Michael Fulmer that weren’t even a part of the major league equation. The Mets knew they had the flexibility to deal from that surplus, and at the deadline they clearly made Wheeler/Fulmer available. We saw the Carlos Gomez for Wheeler trade play out and ultimately fall through. And we saw the Mets ultimately pull the trigger on the Michael Fulmer for Yoenis Cespedes deal that catapulted the team to the NL East crown. In his brief major league stint so far this season, Fulmer looks like he’s going to be a top of the rotation starter (7-1, 2.52 ERA). The Mets already knew that was the likely outcome with Fulmer. It’s the reason they were hesitant to deal him. But that trade netted the Mets Cespedes, and it’s a deal the 2015 Mets make 10 times out of 10. Why? Because the 2015 Mets had the pitching depth to afford it. Unfortunately, after dealing Fulmer and a number of other pitching prospects in 2015 deadline deals, the 2016 Mets lack that luxury.
The Mets blueprint for making the playoffs includes them putting an ace on the mound every single day. Five aces baby. That’s been the plan for years. Wheeler is that fifth ace. The one area the Mets have been blessed this season is the health of their young pitchers (Yeah I said it. I’m ferociously knocking on wood. Relax). Unfortunately, it’s very unlikely that run of luck lasts year after year. In order to make the most of this championship window and have any chance of sustained success, the Mets are going to need all five aces to carry them. Period. You think Bartolo Colon will be around forever? You want to trade Wheeler and possibly roll with Logan Verrett or Sean Gilmartin as the fifth starter next season? Trust me, don’t look at the list of available free agent starting pitchers for next offseason. There’s a reason front line guys get paid so much. There’s not that many of them.
I’m not saying the Mets shouldn’t look to deal some minor league talent to upgrade the roster. But the available crop of infielders that I’ve been reading about (e.g. Danny Valencia, Yangervis Solarte) does not include a franchise level bat, and Jonathan Lucroy is a catcher. I realize Lucroy can play first base, but it’s not his true position. He’s started just over 30 games at first base in his 7 year career. Travis d’Arnaud is supposed to be back next week, and Lucas Duda is supposed to be back before the end of the season. To give up Zack Wheeler for a player that ultimately creates a roster conundrum for the end of the season and into next season seems foolish to me. In the short term for this season, I think the best move for the Mets is to look to make marginal upgrades to the roster via trade, utilize internal options (e.g. Dilson Herrera, Brandon Nimmo), or make a big international signing (*cough* Yulieski Gourriel *cough*).
In the long term, I think the Mets are better served holding on to all the pitching and looking for ways to upgrade the major league roster in the offseason via free agency. To me that’s the most effective route to elevate this specific roster to a championship caliber level without sacrificing the key strength upon which all the hope for success is predicated. We will live and die with our core of five aces. We cannot afford to compromise that blueprint for the sake of a quick fix. At least not this year.