When a free agent leaves one organization for another, let alone a major rival, fans can become a bit fanatical. That’s not so much the case with New York Mets fans and Zack Wheeler. Although he did sign with the Philadelphia Phillies, there’s not much resentment.
By all accounts, it wasn’t so much a Wheeler decision to leave the Mets as much as it was clear before he even reached free agency that he wouldn’t be invited back.
From not inviting him to the 2015 World Series and asking him to buy his own tickets if he'd like to attend to Brodie Van Wagenen’s openness about the team trading for Marcus Stroman as a replacement for Wheeler while he was still under contract, fans know better than to harbor bitterness.
For Mets fans, Zack Wheeler falls into the same category as many trade chips
Former Mets who are traded and those who leave in free agency are thought of different. It’s not just a Mets thing. When a player chooses to leave for whatever reason—money, a chance to return home, the school districts in Denver—animosity is hard to avoid. Wheeler didn’t so much choose to leave the Mets as much as they made it clear early on that he wouldn’t be a part of their future.
So, even when he does sign with the Phillies and finds himself pitching in the postseason for them in 2022, it’s hard to feel anything but envy.
Wheeler was cast out by the previous regime. BVW doubled down on his decision, too. Although there’s no guarantee he would have become the same stud he has been for Philadelphia had he stayed in New York, we can believe he would have at least been pretty good.
If Jacob deGrom leaves this offseason, the circumstances are going to be a little different than Wheeler departing. The Mets have him under contract but he is choosing to opt out. It would seem the Mets front office would like him to return at a certain price. deGrom might be looking for something else like more money, a team closer to home, or an A-rating on Zillow for a particular school district.
Wheeler isn’t thought of as a traitor. He was someone Mets fans almost universally wanted back. When he was finally able to get healthy, all of the signs of brilliance were there.
Sadly, as the Wilpons tended to do, Wheeler was ostracized. He got away from the organization not because he so desperately wanted to like many other free agents. He left because he wasn’t wanted. It’s a unique situation. And if he was pitching for almost any other team right now, he’d have a lot of New Yorkers cheering him on.