What’s old is new again.
The Milwaukee Brewers made their first move of the trade season earlier today when they acquired Joakim Soria from the White Sox to bolster their bullpen. But according to David Stearns, he and his staff remain “active and engaged” in talks for other additions. The Brewers are believed to be on the lookout for rotation and infield help, and earlier today they were linked to a right-hander from New York with a name that should sound familiar to most fans in the Cream City:
Fixing a typo: I asked David Stearns if he cared to shoot down this morning’s Zack Wheeler chatter. “I’ll let all of that be,” he said. “It’s fun for everyone.”— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) July 26, 2018
As many will remember, Wheeler, now 28, was supposed to be a Brewer in the summer of 2015. He, along with Wilmer Flores, were set to head to Milwaukee in exchange for Carlos Gomez before the Mets decided they were uncomfortable with Gomez’s medical reports. (Hey, can the Brewers get Flores again this time around, too? He’s got a 107 wRC+ and 8 HR in 258 PA while playing 1B/2B/3B.) At that time Wheeler was a young hurler with ace upside who had posted a 3.50 ERA across 285.1 innings in 2013-14, though he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. Injuries kept him from appearing the big leagues in 2015 or 2016, but he returned to action and made 17 starts for New York last season. He looked a bit rusty en route to posting a 5.21 ERA with 4.2 BB/9 and 1.6 HR/9, but he appears to be fully back now in 2018.
Wheeler’s fastball has bounced back to even an firmer level than his pre-surgery velocity, averaging 96.3 MPH this season. He’s relying on his four-seamer quite a bit more often these days and has effectively ditched his sinker; he’s also added a splitter and is mixing his in his changeup a bit more often with his slider and curveball. Wheeler’s run prevention totals aren’t exactly glowing on their face - he owns a 4.33 ERA - but his peripheral statistics paint a much rosier picture about the level of skill he’s actually demonstrated on the mound this season.
Wheeler is generating a career-best 10.9% swinging-strike rate while fanning 8.9 batters per nine innings, 109 in total across 114.1 innings this season. He’s cut his free passes drastically and the 3.2 BB/9 he’s issuing would be the lowest total he has ever posted as a big leaguer. Only three qualified starting pitchers are allowing a lower rate of hard contact than Wheeler’s 27%, and so far this year he’s allowed only 11 dingers in 19 starts. So while the right-hander is currently sitting on a below-average ERA, estimators like FIP- (90) and especially DRA- (82) like his performance quite a bit more than the typical run-of-the-mill starter. A move away from New York (28th in baseball with -71 DRS) and to Milwaukee (1st in MLB with +81 DRS) with their terrific defensive unit would surely help Wheeler’s bottom-line results, and the opportunity to work with Derek Johnson could theoretically help unlock even more of the hurler’s potential.
Wheeler is earning only $1.9 mil this season and will have one more season of arbitration eligibility remaining next year before reaching free agency at the conclusion of the 2019 season. He is seen as the most likely Mets’ pitcher to be dealt before Tuesday’s non-waiver trade deadline and there has been plenty of interest in his services, while Milwaukee’s front office staff is believed to have their hands in more than a few cookie jars while searching for more upgrades. Perhaps all that means that a deal will come together, but as Morosi tweeted it doesn’t sound like anything is close at this time.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs