If the Mets can’t get a lockdown reliever in a trade for Jay Bruce — or Curtis Granderson — and some baseball people feel that will prove to be the case, their best option for significantly strengthening their bullpen just might be Zack Wheeler.
At the moment the Mets don’t know what to expect from their one-time phenom, now that Wheeler has missed two full seasons because of Tommy John surgery.
But even if the righthander bounces back as expected, there are bound to be significant innings-limits, which is why the Mets might consider using him out of the pen to start the season, according to one person in the organization.
“You’d have to see how his arm bounces back, that type of thing,” the person said. “These guys are all different when it comes to that. But it’s not out of the question. We’ll need to save innings.”
It’s an intriguing thought. Wheeler’s power stuff could be exceptionally dominant in short bursts out of the pen.
In addition, the Mets think enough of what they saw last season from Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo to feel very comfortable with one of them as a fifth starter behind Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Steven Matz.
Obviously Wheeler is a major question mark after experiencing problems in trying to come back last season, but it’s worth remembering that Matz had a similarly difficult return from Tommy John surgery, missing two full seasons, and his stuff was there when he finally returned to pitching.
If Wheeler proves healthy, a month or so in the bullpen to start the season would ensure keeping his innings-total under his previous high of 185, which he threw in 2014.
If he takes to it, Wheeler could play an important role during that period, when it’s likely Jeurys Familia will be suspended from baseball because of his domestic-violence arrest in October.
From there, who knows? The Mets could be faced with a decision about where he best helps the ballclub — as part of a big three at the back of the bullpen with Familia and Addison Reed, or as a starter.
In any case, it’s a long way from happening but it’s at least worth considering, as the Mets go about looking for ways to reinforce their bullpen.
That seems to be their clear priority as they go about looking to trade either Bruce or Granderson.
You can make the argument that they should at least consider trying to bring back a catcher in such a trade, after Travis d’Arnaud took a major step backward last season, and Kevin Plawecki has yet to blossom as the Mets expected.
However, GM Sandy Alderson seems willing to gamble that d’Arnaud will bounce back offensively, and the Mets are hopeful that hiring catching coach Glenn Sherlock will make an impact on his defense.
So Alderson and his front-office team will look for the right match in a trade — a team willing to deal a top-notch reliever in exchange for the power and production that Bruce can provide.
But is that realistic? We’re in an era in baseball when there seems to be greater value than ever placed on of lock-down relievers, especially after a post-season in which managers relied on their bullpens more heavily than ever.
“I’d be surprised if they get a proven guy,” a major-league scout said on Wednesday. “Everybody was loading up in the bullpen even before they saw what happened in the post-season. Bullpen depth is something everybody wants now.
“Yeah, you can get a decent arm in a trade, but they’re probably looking for more than that.”
With that in mind, a major-league executive said he thought the Mets might get more value in a trade of Bruce or Granderson by taking back a minor-league prospect with a high ceiling.
“Nobody is trading their better bullpen arms unless they’re getting great value back,” he said. “A guy like Bruce gives you 30 home runs but he’s a one-dimensional hitter who doesn’t get on base very much.
“I think the Mets would be better off getting a prospect they like in a trade and then signing a couple of free-agent relievers. There are a lot of second-tier guys on the market.”
The Mets have made it clear they won’t pursue the first-tier relievers such as Kenley Jansen or Mark Melancon, but others such as Brad Ziegler, Joaquin Benoit, Joe Smith, Mike Dunn or Fernando Salas might provide as much value as any reliever they can get in a trade.
Of course, none of them are likely to be difference-makers either. If the Mets can get one of those in a trade they should do it.
If not, Wheeler could be a wild-card worth considering in such a role.
Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News