Multiple outlets reported yesterday that the Yankees were the middleman in a rumored three-team trade that would have seen Noah Syndergaard in pinstripes, while JT Realmuto would have landed in Queens. In order to facilitate a trade of that magnitude, a high-end young Yankee, most probably Miguel Andujar, would have been dealt. While a player like Miguel Andujar should be available if the right deal presents itself (if you haven’t read it yet, check out our own Matthew Cohen’s analysis of Andujar’s value), I think it’s fair to say that the threshold for trading Andujar should be very high. Reports today suggest that the aforementioned three-team deal is fizzling, but that does not mean that the Yankees should table discussions that involve the Mets.
I personally feel that a deal centered around Miguel Andujar is a a little rich for a pitcher as volatile from a health perspective as Noah Syndergaard. That said, the fact that these discussions have become so public indicates that Mets’ ownership may finally be willing to swing a deal with the Yankees. If that is the case, I think the Yankees should set their sights on a lower-cost alternative: Zack Wheeler.
There is no question but that whatever injury risk is associated with Syndergaard goes double for Wheeler. Wheeler lost all of 2015 and 2016 to recovery from Tommy John Surgery. Wheeler experienced a difficult recovery from surgery, ultimately shutting down his comeback in 2016 to rest a flexor strain. In his first MLB action since surgery in 2017, Wheeler struggled to find his form on the mound while fighting numerous arm injuries, including bicep tendinitis and a stress reaction in his right arm. None of these are trivial injuries, and taken as a whole, it is fair to say that Wheeler’s right arm will always be a concern. Wheeler’s injuries, combined with the reality that Wheeler only has one year of team control remaining, mitigate his value on the trade market.
Despite the risk, Wheeler’s talent has never been in doubt, and Wheeler was finally able to realize his talent in 2018. Let’s play a game: below are statistics (courtesy of baseball-reference.com) for two pitchers, Pitcher A and Pitcher B. Which one is Zack Wheeler?
Pitcher A: 25 GS, 154.1 IP, 155 K, 39 BB, 148 H, 9.0 K/9, 3.97 K/BB, 4.0 bWAR, 2.7 WAA
Pitcher B: 29 GS, 182.1 IP, 179 K, 55 BB, 150 H, 8.8 K/9, 3.25 K/BB, 3.9 bWAR, 2.5 WAA
These stat lines are remarkably close. Pitcher A threw fewer innings, struggled to limit hits, but also limited walks and struck batters out at a high rate. Pitcher B threw more innings, limited hits to a greater extent, while still posting comparable strikeout numbers to Pitcher A. Zack Wheeler is Pitcher B. Noah Syndergaard is Pitcher A. Syndergaard’s injury history, while extensive, is not as scary as Wheeler’s; has more years of team control; and is younger, all of which make him more valuable than Wheeler. But in terms of their value for 2019? Assuming health, Wheeler is very nearly as valuable to a pitching staff in 2019 as Syndergaard.
Obviously, health cannot be assumed, but check out what Wheeler accomplished last year. In his first full season since 2014, Wheeler threw 182.1 innings and made 29 trips to the mound. Most importantly, Wheeler did not show any ill effects from the injuries or the time off in 2018. Below, here is a chart of Wheeler’s velocity for each year he has pitched in the majors:
Wheeler’s velocity was in-line with his historical norms, and was up appreciably for all pitches versus 2017. Most importantly, after steadily gaining velocity between April and July (very common for most pitchers), Wheeler held his velocity throughout the summer. These facts indicate two things. For one, Wheeler was healthy in 2018 and showed the same caliber of stuff as he displayed prior to Tommy John surgery. Secondly, he did not tire as the season wore on despite a significant increase in workload versus the previous 3 years. While Wheeler’s arm will always be a concern, 2018 is proof that he is at least fully healthy heading into the 2019 season.
So what might it cost to get Wheeler? The Mets are clearly in win-now mode, so a trade for just prospects will not get the deal done. We also do not know what the Mets’ new GM thinks about Wheeler’s true talent level or proclivity to re-sign after the 2019 season. Even so, I do not think that prying Wheeler from the Mets would take Andujar and Torres. The Mets need infield depth, bullpen help, a controllable pitcher, and they could use another talented outfielder. How about this for a starting proposal: Chad Green, Jonathan Loaisiga, Clint Frazier, and Tyler Wade for Zack Wheeler. The Mets get young, controllable, MLB-ready talent and a strong late-inning reliever, while the Yankees get the final piece to a championship rotation. My trade proposal is probably still to weak a return for Wheeler, but it at least gets the conversation started.
Trading Andujar to get Syndergaard is a risky proposition from a value perspective. Since the phone lines are clearly open between the Yankees and Mets, I think the Yankees could use these talks to find a way to pry a pitcher from the Mets with nearly the same value to a rotation in 2019 while keeping one of their best young players.