Mets GM responds to Wheeler's comments

February 14th, 2020

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen fired back at former starting pitcher Zack Wheeler on Friday, a day after Wheeler criticized the team for not pursuing him more actively in free agency.

“It’s how they roll,” Wheeler told the New York Post of the Mets’ inaction, saying he heard “crickets” from Van Wagenen before signing a five-year, $118 million contract with the rival Phillies.

“I was surprised and disappointed,” Van Wagenen said upon reading those comments. “From top down, this organization supported Zack and helped him achieve success at the Major League level. From our health and performance department to our coaches, we helped Zack. And we helped him parlay two good half seasons over the course of the last five years into $118 million.”

Wheeler, who pitched for the Mets from 2013-19, went 23-15 with a 3.65 ERA over the past two years. His ERA after the All-Star break in those two seasons was 2.26.

Van Wagenen spoke to Wheeler’s agent about a contract extension prior to the 2019 Trade Deadline, but the two sides could not come to an agreement. At that point, the Mets acquired Marcus Stroman, viewing him as a ready-made 2020 rotation replacement for Wheeler. Rather than match the Phillies’ offer this winter, the Mets signed Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha as starting depth.

“We had discussion on parameters and valuation with his agent prior to the Trade Deadline,” Van Wagenen said of Wheeler. “We maintained and continued those conversations through the offseason, including the last week before he signed as a free agent. We were in touch with his agent throughout, and the parameters that we had outlined were surpassed by the Phillies.”

Making a trade
Shortly after Porcello signed with the Mets, he called Dominic Smith asking if his new teammate would be willing to give up uniform No. 22. Porcello explained that the number was important to him because he had won the 2016 American League Cy Young Award and the '18 World Series title with it in Boston.

No. 22 was also important to Smith, who began wearing it when his high school girlfriend, who used it in softball, asked him to do the same. The number stuck with Smith throughout his professional career, but when Porcello came calling, Smith said giving up the number “felt like the right thing to do.”

“I want him to feel comfortable, feel welcome, feel obviously a part of the team,” Smith said. “Later down the line, I would want a young kid to do the same thing for me.”

Although Smith would have been willing to give up the number for free, Porcello added a sweetener: A donation to Smith’s BaseballGenerations Academy that he founded in 2017 with two friends in Los Angeles. The academy helps local baseball players navigate the often-confusing paths through amateur baseball.

“A lot of times kids and parents who are going through this process, they don’t know what to do, who to trust, where to go, what tournaments to be involved in,” Smith said. “We just want to be a little bridge that way to help kids get to the next level, whether it be college or the pro ball ranks, because we just want them to succeed in life.”

Porcello is only on a one-year deal with the Mets, so it’s possible Smith will reclaim No. 22 before long. For now, he has switched to No. 2.

“That’s all I’ve known is 22 my whole life, even through high school,” Smith said. “Obviously it meant a lot to me, but hopefully, eventually I can get it back.”

Slimming down
Jeurys Familia’s diet may be generating the most headlines at Mets camp, but he’s not the only player noticeably lighter. Veteran catcher René Rivera shed between 30-35 pounds over the winter, with an eye toward extending his Major League career.

“After the season, I knew I wasn’t in the best shape,” Rivera said. “I knew I had to reverse that, and get in better shape to get healthy. … I wasn’t good, and you have to be honest with yourself. That’s when I looked in the mirror and said, 'I have to do something if I want to keep playing baseball.'”

A catcher for the Mets in 2016, ’17 and ’19, Rivera signed a Minor League deal last month to return to New York. He faces an uphill climb to make the Opening Day roster as a backup to Wilson Ramos, given Tomás Nido’s status on the 40-man roster. But Rivera is familiar with the pitching staff, drawing rave reviews over the years for his defense and game-calling.

“I feel comfortable here,” Rivera said. “I feel like I know everybody. I’ve been here many years, and hopefully it’s a good chance to make the club.”