news 1 week ago

Zack Wheeler rumors: Five teams that should line up for Wheeler's services

Sporting News — (Joe Rivera)

It's going to be wheels up for Zack.

While we're still waiting to see whether he'll accept the Mets' $17.8 million qualifying offer (spoiler alert: he won't, according to some reports), there's a pretty good chance Wheeler will be dealing for a new team in 2019.

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Wheeler, 29, is one of the more underrated players on the open market this offseason. His past two seasons, he's had a 4.2 fWAR and a 4.7 fWAR, and that 8.9 fWAR total ranks fourth in the NL over that span among starters, behind Jacob deGrom, Mac Scherzer and Patrick Corbin.

When Wheeler is on his game, he's a great No. 2 starter, who has shown flashes of being a capable No. 1. When Wheeler is at his worst, he's a shaky No. 4 guy. But he boasts mid-to-high 90s velocity, wipeout breaking stuff and seems to be improving every season with his injury history in the rear view mirror.

It certainly feels like there are 30 teams and 30 fits for Wheeler's services, but here are five squads that should head up the pack.

White Sox

Potential rotation: Lucas Giolito, Zack Wheeler, Michael Kopech, Carlos Rodon (recovering from Tommy John)

Lucas Giolito finally emerged as the ace many expected him to be in 2019, so the White Sox could certainly use a Robin to his Batman.

While Michael Kopech returns from Tommy John surgery and will play into the South Siders' rotation plans in 2020, the Sox could certainly use a bit more established, reliable experience in that rotation. There also seems to be some uncertainty as to whether former top prospect Carson Fulmer is going to blossom into that top-billed starter as advertised, but that seems increasingly unlikely.

Experienced? Check. No. 2 guy? Check. Zack Wheeler fits the mold, and for a young team that's pretty desperate for more pitching help and to make its stamp in a weakened division, he could be the difference between cute story and wild card threat.

The White Sox showed that they were ready to pay big money last year while missing out on both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, and could very well be in the market for more pitching help this year. Wheeler would be a nice add to a rotation that features Giolito and Kopech at the top already. 

Angels

Potential rotation: Shohei Ohtani, Zack Wheeler, Griffin Canning, Jaime Barria, José Suarez

When talking teams that desperately need pitching help, the Angels are near the top of that list, every time it seems, for the past decade or so.

It seems like the Angels have been cursed when it comes to starting pitching for a long time — at least since Jered Weaver's glory days — but there's no excuse for them to pass up on rotation help this offseason when there are so many arms available, Wheeler among them.

They should be major players for Gerrit Cole, but the work in repairing the rotation shouldn't start and end with Cole. With the lineup essentially set one through nine, the rotation that ranked dead last in the AL in ERA needs some help to pair along with Shohei Ohtani, Griffin Canning and potentially Jaime Barria.

By the way, pairing Wheeler along with Mickey Callaway, the Angels' new pitching coach who managed Wheeler during his two best seasons, would be a huge help, as well.

Astros

Potential rotation: Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Zack Wheeler, José Urquidy, Lance McCullers Jr.

Wheeler just feels like he could be another one of these pitchers who the Astros take to the next level.

Whatever the reason — baseball juju, chicken sacrifices to the baseball gods, or just some damned fine analytic-in' — Houston has found a way to get the most out of starters who have come through in recent years. Justin Verlander, who some believed to be on the downswing, rekindled his career. Gerrit Cole, who always had the stuff, evolved into the best pitcher in baseball.

A guy like Wheeler, with his stuff, could certainly reach that next level with Houston, which will likely have a rotation spot or two to fill with the potential departure of Cole. 

A side note:

Gerrit Cole's last two seasons before joining the Astros: 319 innings, 294 strikeouts, 102 ERA+, 3.81 FIP, 8.3 K/9.
Zack Wheeler's last two seasons: 377 2/3 innings, 374 strikeouts, 107 ERA+, 3.37 FIP, 8.9 K/9. 

Stats without context are just numbers, and all, but numbers don't lie.

Braves

Potential rotation: Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Zack Wheeler, Mike Foltynewicz, Kyle Wright

Could a return to Wheeler's home state be in order? 

The Braves aren't in search of an ace at the moment; they're going to let it right with Max Fried and Mike Soroka, both of whom had very good seasons and are going to be cornerstones in their rotation for years to come. That said, they still need reinforcements along the rotation, and Wheeler makes sense (and he seems like he'd be in their price range).

The caveat: The Symrna, Ga., native wasn't really great against NL East opponents in 2019. With 81 2/3 innings pitched vs. the Nats, Phillies and Braves, he allowed 66 earned runs. Obviously, he won't have to worry about pitching against the Braves, but still will have to pitch against the defending world champions. 

Twins

Potential rotation: José Berrios, Zack Wheeler, Jake Odorizzi, ???, ???

The Twins have to essentially rebuild their rotation from the ground up. Of their rotation last season — Jose Berrios, Martin Perez, Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson, Michael Pineda — only Berrios is under contract, so they have a very busy offseason ahead of them. Odorizzi signed the qualifying offer, which was a blessing in disguise for Minnesota.

Somewhat quietly, the Twins' rotation was better than people expected, with a top-10 xFIP in the game and that was with a lot of middling starters, an offensive explosion across baseball and a really bad month from Odorizzi. Through it all, they still won more than 100 games. 

It feels like the Twins are absolutely going to have to lock up some arms for longer than just a year like they did with Pineda, especially to prop this window open in a division that's pretty open right now.