NEW YORK -- As Zack Wheeler strode off the mound Friday for what might have been the final time in a Mets uniform, many of the 33,776 in attendance at Citi Field stood to serenade him. It may not be inevitable that the Mets trade Wheeler before the July 31 Deadline, but a significant chance remains.
“I appreciated that from the fans,” Wheeler said. “That’s the only time I really thought about it, because I was out there concentrating on winning a ballgame.”
The three runs Wheeler allowed in a 6-3 win over the Pirates served to boost his trade stock, giving scouts reassurance that he is healthy after missing three weeks with a right shoulder impingement. Wheeler’s health was indeed obvious, and his effectiveness plain to see, as he struck out seven and allowed six hits in his return from the injured list.
The most damaging of those hits was an Adam Frazier two-run homer in the sixth, but it did not cost Wheeler a win thanks to Jeff McNeil’s prior three-run shot -- one of four home runs the Mets hit off Pirates pitching. Todd Frazier, Pete Alonso and Wilson Ramos also went deep for New York, which improved to 8-5 since the All-Star break.
“We’re playing good baseball right now,” McNeil said.
Until Friday, Wheeler’s injury prevented him from being part of that mini run of success. His shoulder impingement came at an inopportune time for the Mets, who had hoped to trade the impending free agent to one of several teams -- the Braves, Astros, Twins, Rays, Brewers and Yankees, to name six -- seeking starting pitching. As a result, multiple executives said this week that much would depend upon Wheeler’s performance Friday, in his lone remaining start before the Trade Deadline.
All the while, Mets executives began more aggressively shopping Noah Syndergaard, whom the team could trade instead of Wheeler. Maybe. Some whispers have the Mets offering Wheeler a contract extension if Syndergaard goes. Others have Wheeler the more likely pitcher to land on a contender. Others have the Mets standing pat completely.
“You definitely hear the rumors,” McNeil said. “People whose names are being floated around, they hear it. I guess we’ll see how it all plays out.”
“You hear it and see it,” Wheeler said. “But my concentration is here, doing my job. Whatever happens, happens. You can’t control it. You’re going to try to do the best you can whenever you go out there.”
If Wheeler does depart before the July 31 Deadline, he will leave an uneven legacy in Flushing. One of the game’s best prospects when the Mets acquired him for Carlos Beltran in 2011, Wheeler debuted two years later and thrived the following season, before missing all of '15 and ‘16 -- including the Mets’ World Series run -- due to Tommy John surgery. Complications from that operation fed into a poor year for Wheeler in '17, but he bounced back last season to become one of baseball’s best pitchers down the stretch.
This year has been less consistent for Wheeler, who walked off the mound Friday with a 7-6 record and a 4.71 ERA. Still, his repertoire remains one of the game’s most devastating, featuring an upper-90s fastball and three distinct secondary pitches. Teams tend to see that sort of stuff and envision what it might look like in October.
Asked if he thinks he’ll be traded, Wheeler shrugged and said, “My guess is just as good as yours.”
“A guy like him is hard to replace,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. “It’s a tough decision for everybody because he’s valuable to our team. He’s been here a long time and he’s thrown some really good games for us over the years.”