Zack Wheeler
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

The New York Mets were questioned about their decision to keep Zack Wheeler instead of trading him and he’s proving them right. 

Before the acquisition of Marcus Stroman, it was almost a guarantee that the New York Mets were going to trade impending free agent Zack Wheeler. But having one of the best starting pitching rotations was something too good to pass up for Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen.

Trading neither Wheeler nor Noah Syndergaard is something that most people are still scratching their heads about. Although, Wheeler’s latest start against the Chicago White Sox may have given some of those people some clarity on the direction of the Mets’ future.

In his first start since the trade deadline, Wheeler recorded his best performance of the season. Wheeler held the White Sox hitless through 4.2 innings. The 29-year-old then went on to pitch seven innings allowing just four hits and striking out seven.

Wheeler was so dominant in this start that no base runner even reached second base during his seven innings of work. This start by Wheeler was exactly what the Mets needed to prove why they wanted to hang onto him for the rest of the season.

By not trading Wheeler, the Mets strongly believe that he’ll be able to perform similar results during the second half of this season to his stellar performance from last season when Wheeler recorded a 1.68 ERA, 0.813 WHIP, 8.8 SO/9, .489 OPP OPS through his eleven starts.

Internally, the Mets believe that they have a chance at getting back into the race for a wild-card spot. They also believe that their starting rotation can now carry them back into contention as well.

The Mets’ starting rotation has been dominating ever since the start of the second half of the season. Their rotation currently owns the lowest-ERA (2.22) in the NL since then. They also own the lowest-FIP (2.64), xFIP (3.67), and HR/9 (0.56) since the all-star break. The Mets’ rotation has also recorded the sixth-highest GB% (44.1) since the break, which should only improve with the addition of Stroman.

A second-half performance from Wheeler, similarly to last season, should improve the Mets playoff chances as well. The first-round pick from 2009 may already be showing signs of repeating that same success through his two starts since the break.

In two starts since the all-star break, Wheeler has allowed just three runs and one home run. While also producing a combined 14 strikeouts through 12.1 innings pitched. Reducing his walk rate was one of the biggest improvements that Wheeler made during the second half of last season.

Wheeler recorded an 8.7% BB rate and a 3.35 BB/9 during the first half of last season, but he then produced a 5.3% BB rate and a 1.80 BB/9 during the second half of the season. During the first half of this season, Wheeler recorded a 6.7% BB rate and a 2.57 BB/9.

However, Wheeler hasn’t given up a walk during either of his two starts since the break, which could suggest that Wheeler is nearing a dominant stretch similar to the one that he recorded during the second half of last season.

A dominating second-half performance for Wheeler would certainly increase his free-agent value heading into this offseason. Which could make it a little more difficult for the Mets to keep their entire starting pitching rotation intact heading into next season.

The Mets and Wheeler have reportedly had initial contract negotiations during this season. But both sides appear to be far apart on both AAV and the length of Wheeler’s next contract as well.

Wheeler seems like he has a desire to continue to play for the Mets. Nonetheless, he clearly wants a significant raise before heading into his age-30 season. Multiple reports suggest that Wheeler’s market value will range somewhere in-between a three or four-year deal for approximately $15 to $20 million per year.

While those numbers shouldn’t be out of range for the Mets, a lot of their core players are slated for significant raises this offseason. So, if Wheeler commands $20 million or more per season, then the Mets could have a hard time improving their roster this winter.

According to Spotrac, the Mets entered this season with the ninth-highest payroll in the league. So, while the Mets are planning to re-sign Wheeler for next season, an outstanding second-half performance may increase the amount of difficulty they’ll have in making that into a reality.