Despite Mets’ pitching depth, letting Zack Wheeler go to Phillies still hurts

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Brodie Van Wagenen’s decision to sign two veteran starters at the Winter Meetings looks a lot better now. But his decision to let Zack Wheeler walk away looks a lot worse.

After the Mets announced No. 2 starter Noah Syndergaard is scheduled for season-ending Tommy John surgery on Thursday, the club does not have to go fishing in their minor-league pond for a replacement arm right away. Instead, the Mets have the starting rotation covered with their offseason acquisitions of Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha.

Porcello, 31, is coming off his worst year in the big leagues, when he pitched a career-high 5.52 ERA across 32 starts for the Red Sox. He hoped to right the ship in 2020 and was off to a good start in spring training before Mets camp was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Mets view his ability to produce an average of 34 starts per season as an essential asset, and Porcello had secured his role in the rotation well before spring camp broke.

Wacha, 28, had a solid camp with the Mets after spending his previous seven seasons with the Cardinals. Before Syndergaard’s torn UCL, he was competing with Steven Matz for a job in the rotation. Though he seemed destined for the bullpen, he made that choice difficult for the club, pitching to a 1.17 ERA (one earned run, 7.2 innings) over three sharp Grapefruit League starts.

Both Porcello and Wacha were added to the 40-man roster to complement Marcus Stroman, who the Mets viewed as Wheeler’s replacement. But that plan only worked with Syndergaard in the picture.

The Mets could have used a pitcher like Wheeler to anchor the five-man rotation during Syndergaard’s missed season. Van Wagenen and Wheeler exchanged jabs last month in a public dispute over the final negotiations that ultimately ended with the Mets depositing the right-hander in Philadelphia.

Wheeler claimed he didn’t hear from the Mets before he signed as a free agent with the Phillies on a five-year, $118 million contract. Van Wagenen’s version of the events included the GM reaching out to Wheeler’s agent at Jet Sports Management “multiple times” over the course of that week in December.

That version contradicted Wheeler’s comments, and Van Wagenen even went so far as to say that help from the Mets’ coaches and performance department helped the right-hander “parlay his two great half-seasons over the last five years into $118 million.”

With the league operating under the assumption that baseball will begin in June, a “great half-season” is really all the Mets would’ve needed from Wheeler this year.


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