I’m still not sure of the Astros approach to the 2019-20 Free Agent market. With the Astros being one of the top 5 payrolls and working through a precarious juggling act as they run head first into the wall known as the Competitive Balance Threshold. Crane previously stated that he would not exceed the “cap”, but with recent announcements that he would pursue Cole, I decided to take a look at some other options.
Now I know what some of you may be thinking, replacing Cole who is possibly the best pitcher on the planet today with Zack Wheeler is like replacing a fine scotch with moonshine but hear me out, I think Zack can be similarly as effective for less than 1⁄2 the price!
Who is Zach Wheeler?
The 29 year old Right Handed Pitcher, was the 6th overall pick in 2009 for a $3.3 Million dollar signing bonus. As a 6’4, 185 lb pitcher and the ability to dial up to the upper 90’s, he obviously drew attention through his inconsistent performances in the minors occasionally flashing dominance. John Sickels had him as a prospect of the day twice, here was his notes on him back in 2012:
“Wheeler is a 6-4, 185 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born May 30, 1990. His key pitch is a 93-97 MPH fastball, a plus pitch with both velocity and impressive movement. He utilizes a slider/cutter, a power curve, and a changeup. The curveball is his best secondary pitch but all of them have strong potential. Statistically, his excellent dominance ratios provide objective confirmation of the quality of his stuff. His biggest issue has been simple command. He threw strikes much more efficiently after going back to his high school mechanics last summer, but his walk rate has spiked upward again this spring, granted the rest of his numbers remain excellent.”
Zack Wheeler, Painting with Flames (99mph Fastball). ️ ️ pic.twitter.com/Hq47RwvlQB— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 13, 2019
Wheeler has been a polarizing figure, with 3 seasons in the Low-Mid 3’s, and two at basically 5. Combine that with an injury history that includes DL stints for a Fingernail avulsion (2012), Tommy John Surgery, Bicep tendinitis, Stress reaction in right arm, etc and I can easily see why people will balk at him as a potential Free Agent target.
At the trade deadline last year, I looked at Wheeler as a potential acquisition, at which time he had an extremely unlucky 4.87 ERA, which he was able to drive all the way back under 4 before the end of the year with a strong performance down the stretch.
So why pursue a semi-often injured inconsistent performer to a large contract? Well, he’s the definition of the Strom Model Pitcher. Which makes him a perfect pitcher for a “buy low”, who could truly become Cole light.
With an average velocity of 96.7 mph on his fastball (and above average spin), and a Curveball that ranked 25th overall in baseball, Wheeler fits the prototypical Strom candidate.
What may surprise people is over the past 2 years, Wheeler has been the 9th most valuable from a fWAR perspective. Providing a large number (377.2) of innings of well above average baseball (3.65 ERA/3.37 FIP)
Zack Wheeler, 96mph High Fastball and 80mph Curveball, Overlay. pic.twitter.com/dcMaJOHAPb— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 28, 2018
Depth Charts and Steamer both are predicting a 12-11, 4.27 ERA season of roughly 200 IP for approximately 3.1-3.3 WAR.
I’m somewhat surprised by the prediction, although it may be skewed due to his injury riddled 2017 season.
MLBTradeRumors has Wheeler ranked #4 on their top 50 with a good description of “For teams seeking ace potential without the Gerrit Cole price tag, Wheeler is the top choice.”
Phillies. Five years, $100MM.
“Though the free agent market has tightened up considerably since Jeff Samardzija signed four years ago, there would seem to be enough competition to get Wheeler to the heights of that five-year, $90MM contract or even take it to the next level. Wheeler received a qualifying offer from the Mets, who seem unlikely to be able to fit him into their budget. The Phillies, Twins, Nationals, Braves, Brewers, Cubs, Giants, Dodgers, Padres, Red Sox, Yankees, White Sox, Astros, Angels, and Rangers could be part of his robust market.”
At 29 years old, a 5 year contract does not seem unrealistic although the Qualified Offer and his injury history may hold back his value a touch more than you’d expect looking at his pedigree and performance.
The Astros are very likely to lose the best pitcher in baseball before next year. I think this drives a sense of action for fans of needing to find a way to fill that void. With that said, the Astros rotation without Cole is still headlined by two Hall of Fame worthy Cy-Young caliber pitchers in Verlander and Greinke and is reinforced with pitchers like Lance McCullers and Forrest Whitley waiting in the wings. It’s not a perfect picture, but it’s feasible for them to carry one of the top pitching staffs in baseball without making a single change.
As for Wheeler, he’s someone to dream on. His second half resurgence with reinforce the fact that he is not only a workhorse but has the potential to be a lock down ace. His arsenal would fit perfectly under Strom’s tutelage with a realistic chance that his results could parallel Cole’s over the next few years.
It would seem that a Cole-esque performer for 1⁄3 of the price could be exactly what the Astros need. But even still, I can’t see the Astros pursuing this option for the same reason they would struggle to be able to re-sign Cole, the luxury threshold. Unless the Astros are extremely creative, or Crane changes his tune in regards to blowing past the luxury threshold I simply can’t see it happening.
But I can imagine it, slotting Wheeler in third behind Greinke would maintain the Astros having one of, if not the, best starting rotations in baseball. Add in a healthy McCullers and/or Whitley living up to his potential and the rotation could be what dreams are made of.
Let me know your thoughts. Would you want the Astros to pursue him? Do you think they make a big name signing?
I’ll leave you with this beautiful clip
Sword of the Week:— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 20, 2019
Zack Wheeler's 92mph Slider vs Soto. ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/2fXUIbQ9YP
Should the Astros pursue Zack Wheeler?
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