Mets: A choice between Zack Wheeler and two high-priced relievers
By Tim Boyle
We should expect the New York Mets to spend only so much money on their pitching staff. When it comes to Zack Wheeler, they may need to decide between him and two high priced relievers.
Hypothetically, let’s say the New York Mets plan to spend around $20 million per year on average to retain Zack Wheeler. It’s probably a larger amount than they’re actually willing to offer him. It is, however, an average annual salary he could potentially land this offseason from somewhere.
Wheeler is a talented starter who should garner plenty of attention this offseason. Although he’s in a class below Gerrit Cole by several miles, he has “missing piece” capabilities for a team ready to win-now. A team like the Mets fit this billing.
However, the Mets have more areas to address than keeping one of their best starters. The bullpen is about as messy as can be. They need to add at least two good relievers this winter and that’s being generous and believing either Edwin Diaz or Jeurys Familia figures things out.
In their pursuit of pitching help this winter, the Mets can begin in several different areas. First and foremost, they may want to make a decision on Wheeler. A qualifying offer feels inevitable if only to gain a draft pick. If he turns it down, it may be the end of their interest in signing a starting pitcher they expect to open the year in the rotation.
I’m beginning to feel the Mets will indeed move Seth Lugo back to a starter’s role. At a low-cost with an abundance of talent, it makes sense in a group of starting five where everyone is making good money. They must allocate their finances evenly throughout the roster.
So, if Lugo joins the starting five while making first-year arbitration money, the team can then spend the money they would have given to Wheeler in free agency on building up the bullpen. If we revisit the $20 million per year number, this means possibly spending on two $10 million per year pitchers.
As we witnessed in 2019, salary doesn’t exactly equal success. Familia’s paycheck averages out to $10 million per year. There’s always a chance the organization rinses and repeats the process with another guy like him.
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I do believe the Mets will try to snag at least one reliever through trade, possibly moving Dominic Smith in the process. The trouble here is obvious. Every team needs good relievers. They need more than one, too. At first base, teams can survive a whole year with only one guy at the position. Nobody is going to sell a talented reliever low.
In which case, free agency is a likely route for the Mets. With the rotation secure, they can do something they haven’t for years: build a reliable bullpen—or at least attempt to.
It’s not an either/or decision. The Mets could keep Wheeler and target a pair of relief arms. In fact, this is what they should do. Lugo can remain in the bullpen and move to the rotation if needed.
Like we’ve all said a million times, this franchise isn’t willing to spend correctly. Sometimes it feels like the owners are a parent who tells us we can pick one toy. Worse, there are years when we can either have the video game or the video game system, but not both. Unfortunately, one without the other is useless.
Given the choice between Wheeler and the 180 innings he could give the team and the two relievers who may combine for 150 innings at the most, I still prefer the latter. Although this means 30 fewer innings of “potential quality,” it is imperative this ball club wins the games they should aka most of Jacob deGrom’s starts.
They were unable to do this over the last few seasons because they lacked relief support.
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Perhaps there is a compromise as well. Maybe the Mets can bring back Wheeler and only get one relief pitcher. This feels like the weakest of the decisions. The bullpen lost far too many games. They need to do everything possible to ensure there isn’t a single weakness there again in 2020. Easier said than done, they’ll have to accomplish this with a lot of hope and prayer those who struggled in 2019 can find their footing.