Other than the crazy Edwin Jackson/Colby Rasmus dealings, the big news of Wednesday was that the Mets had agreed to trade star outfielder Carlos Beltran to the Giants for pitching prospect Zack Wheeler.
Who wins this exchange? Let’s find out.
We’ll start with Beltran, since he’s the obvious known commodity in the deal. He’s no longer a force on the bases or in the field, but he can still hit at age 34. Bashing the ball at a .289/.391/.513 clip while playing half your games at Citi Field.
The Giants are looking to win now. They won’t have Tim Lincecum, Brian Wilson and Matt Cain forever, nobody can quite be sure how long Ryan Vogelsong is going to be dominating, and now seems like a good time to go all in, with the San Francisco farm system looking fairly ordinary.
The Giants are hitting .241/.307/.360 as a team this year, and no matter how good your pitching is, it’s tough to see that anemic of a lineup holding up in the playoffs. Their outfield actually hasn’t been that big of a problem, hitting .252/.326/.397 collectively, but there’s certainly room for someone with Beltran’s bat, and while the Giants’ stadium is pitcher-friendly, so is the one he just came from.
The Mets, on the other hand, are trying to go younger, and since Beltran’s contract is up after the season, so getting a highly-acclaimed prospect with six years of team control for two months of Beltran.
Wheeler is a hard-throwing former top-10 overall pick by the Giants, and he’s struck out well over a batter per inning in his career. Some believe he’s the organization’s best prospect, which sounds like a lot to give up for renting Beltran.
But look beyond that and there are some issues with the righthander. He’s got a decent breaking pitch, but it isn’t a knockout offering, and the most favorable opinion of his changeup is “usable.”
One number sticks out as a big problem for Wheeler this year: 22. That’s the number of walks he’s issued to left-handed batters, in just 26 2/3 innings against them. Yes, he’s struck out 35, but that indicates that he’s not really sure what to do against lefties, since sliders work poorly against opposite-handed batters and his changeup is poor. And it’s not like he’s got pristine command against righties, either, walking 25 in 61 1/3.
Of course, we’re talking about a 21-year-old in High-A, so it’s not like Wheeler can never figure out how to throw more strikes. After all, he walked 5.83 batters per nine innings last year in Low-A and cut that to 4.81 this year. He’s also cut down on his wild pitches (13 last year, five this year) and HBPs (seven and four) despite throwing 30 more innings this season than last, so there’s definitely some good signs.
And Wheeler is thus a good prospect. That said, he’s also the only prospect, which is really the most striking factor about this trade. Given his good frame and velocity, Wheeler could turn into an excellent major league pitcher, but he has a lot of improvements to make to reach that. If his secondary pitches and command don’t develop, he may not even be able to cut it as a starting pitcher in the big leagues.
Given that Wheeler’s command issues have kept him from dominating even in the low minors (he has identical 3.99 ERAs in both of his seasons), he’s thus a fairly risky prospect to acquire as pseudo-top guys go. That doesn’t make this a bad deal for the Mets–as I said, six years of Wheeler is just about automatically worth more to them than two months of Beltran–but it does establish two things. First of all, it makes the Giants’ sending him away make a fair amount of sense. After all, this is a guy who was a high draft pick just two years ago and is still young enough that nobody’s really worried about his lack of a third pitch or command. Perhaps San Francisco was somewhat pessimistic about his development in those areas and decided to get a difference-making player for Wheeler before the reports caught up to how the prospect was actually performing. Second, it makes this a risky trade for New York, because they now have all their hopes from this trade pinned on a single player who has yet to stabilize in such a way that he can be properly projected.
Again, risky does not equal bad, but given that the Mets were apparently offered other packages that included multiple players with sub-Wheelerian upsides, I can’t say that I’m really thrilled with the move. After all, the Mets may have just given up an All-Star caliber player for the next Mike MacDougal.
Then again, though, the Giants are giving up one of the few players who could really help them in 2016 in exchange for two months of a fragile outfielder. Beltran could struggle, given that we’re talking about a fairly small sample. He also hasn’t played 100 games in a season since 2008, so it’s anyone’s guess as to how he’ll hold up physically as he pushes far past that mark for the first time in three years. And if he or the rest of the team slumps and the Giants can’t hold onto a playoff spot, what then?
So that’s the takeaway here. Beltran is a risk for two months, and Wheeler’s future is also a significant risk. Of course, every player holds some risk, but Beltran holds more risk than most good 34-year-old outfielders, and Wheeler holds more risk than most highly-touted A-ball pitchers.
Therefore, this is the sort of deal that has logic behind it on both sides, but could go any number of ways in the future. We’ll have to just wait and see.