The Zack Wheeler Hysteria Must Stop


Early this afternoon, before Jeremy Hefner was felled by a Carlos Beltran one-hopper, Mets twitter continued to buzz with the fact that Zack Wheeler was ready and therefore should break camp with the team – logic be damned.  This buzz wasn’t generated by fans who are foaming at the mouth or writers who were looking to score page views, it was generated by a player on the Mets.  An anonymous Met of course.  Here’s what Mike Puma of the New York Post tweeted:

So, an anonymous Met feels that it’s “ridiculous” that the Mets won’t call up Wheeler because of the arbitration clock issue.  This same anonymous Met says minor issues such as guaranteeing an extra year of team control (I’m being facetious) shouldn’t be part of the decision process since New York is a “big market.”  The anonymous Met is also clearly well versed in economics and is able to tell the future, since he clearly knows how many fans will walk up to the Citi Field ticket windows for each of Zack Wheeler’s starts – and the exact impact that would have on the team’s finances.

Whichever pitcher or position player this is may want to study up and revise his obtuse comments.  There’s absolutely nothing “ridiculous” about the Mets not starting the season with Zack Wheeler on the major league roster.  Keeping Wheeler in AAA for at least the first 20 days of the season is not being done because the Mets are cheap, it’s being done because it’s smart.  An extra year of team control isn’t something that should be sneezed at simply because New York is a big market.

Feb 23, 2013; Port St Lucie, FL, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Zack Wheeler (65) throws in the third inning during a spring training game against the Washington Nationals at Tradition Field. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Keeping top prospects down a few extra weeks in order to ensure an extra year of team control is commonplace.  Not only is it something that’s done by smaller market teams, it’s something that’s done by teams that are both in large markets and who expect to contend during the season in which they’re employing the strategy.  Just last year, the Washington Nationals waited until April 27th before calling Bryce Harper up for his major league debut.  By doing so, they ensured that Harper would hit free agency a year later than he would have if he were called up a week or more earlier.

If the Nationals, who were expected to contend for a title last season and did so, kept Bryce Harper down in order to ensure an extra year of team control, wouldn’t it make sense for the 2013 Mets (who most feel are in a transition year) to do the same thing with Zack Wheeler?

Later this afternoon, the Mets’ well respected broadcasters joined in the hysteria.  After Jeremy Hefner was forced to leave the game after being drilled in his pitching elbow by a comebacker off the bat of Carlos Beltran, Gary Cohen, Ron Darling, and Keith Hernandez all advocated for Wheeler to break camp with the team.  It should be noted that the three of them had this discussion not only before they knew the severity of the injury (the X-Rays were negative, Hefner is fine), but before Hefner had even gotten up off the field and returned to the dugout.  Cohen was in favor of opening the year with Wheeler in the rotation, and Hernandez said “call him up.”

I love Gary, Keith, and Ron.  I think they’re the best in the business.  Still, their short-sightedness today was both odd and appalling.  Cohen certainly knows the ins and outs of the rules, and is well aware that the right thing to do is to call Wheeler up after April 20th.  Hernandez and Darling are former players who want to see the best guys out there, so their reaction was a bit more understandable.  Still, it would be unbelievably idiotic if the Mets chose to surrender a full year of team control for what would amount to three April starts for Zack Wheeler.  Three!

The Mets’ situation in the starting rotation isn’t ideal, but it isn’t dire either.  They have four starters who should be ready to break camp in Jonathon Niese, Matt Harvey, Dillon Gee, and Jeremy Hefner.  Shaun Marcum will likely open the year on the disabled list, but may be able to return as soon as the sixth game of the season.  In the event that Marcum is delayed further, the team can turn to Aaron Laffey or Collin McHugh.  If April 20th passes and the Mets have a need in the rotation and/or Wheeler is tearing up AAA, he should be called up.  Now isn’t the time.

Would it be thrilling to see Zack Wheeler introduced along with Matt Harvey, Jonathon Niese, David Wright, Ike Davis, and everyone else on Opening Day?  Absolutely.  Would I rush out to Citi Field to buy tickets for Wheeler’s first Citi Field start?  Yes.  Still, having Wheeler up here before April 20th passes shouldn’t be a consideration under any circumstances.

After today’s game, the media of course asked Terry Collins about the potential of Wheeler breaking camp with the team.  Not that it’s his decision to make, but Collins responded by noting that Wheeler still had “some things to work on” and that he wasn’t a consideration to break camp with the team.  Collins can’t simply come out and state that the team is keeping Wheeler in AAA until an extra year of control is assured, but that’s clearly the reason.  It’s also the right thing to do.

Most people agree that Zack Wheeler is one of the five best pitchers the Mets currently have, and that his potential is limitless.  Regardless of the bellowing of an anonymous Met, the team’s broadcasters, and impatient fans, the Mets must stick to the plan.  And it appears they will.  Once April 20th passes, the Wheeler countdown will begin.  Until then, the hysteria must stop.

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