Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Mets are Wheeler-ing and Dealing at the Deadline

Fred likes to only talk about fantasy, so I guess I'm here to talk about what's actually happening. The big trade so far this MLB trade deadline is Carlos Beltran going to the San Francisco Giants with right-handed pitching prospect Zack Wheeler coming to the New York Mets. Everyone is talking about the impact Beltran can have in San Francisco this season, but nobody is talking about how Wheeler could be a household name in 5 years.

The trade deadline is an exciting time for almost all sports (sorry football). Big name players get dealt, sometimes to your favorite team and sometimes to your team's biggest rival. Regardless its a shake-up and people like change. Baseball is known for big deals soon after the all-star break. Cliff Lee went from the Indians to the Phillies in 2009, he also went from the Mariners to the Rangers in 2010, C.C. Sabathia went from the Indians to the Brewers in 2008, and Mark Teixeira went from the Rangers to the Angels in 2008. These are just some recent examples, and the newest player just added to this list is Carlos Beltran. The New York Mets sent $4 million and Beltran to the San Francisco Giants for pitching prospect Zach Wheeler. Receiving a new superstar on your team is quite exciting, and in some cases it is the last piece of the puzzle that could be enough to bring a championship home. Most of the time, though, it is simply not worth it. It's like going on vacation and renting a Lamborghini. You overpay, it gets you where you were going anyway, you know you won't get to keep it, you're stuck reminiscing the next time you see it around, and at the end of the day you wish you had your money back and had just rented a Kia. In the case of MLB, replace the word money with prospects, Lamborghini with the name of a flashy high impact player, and Kia with the name of a low-profile player who could have been more of what you needed anyway. I am not anti-trading at the deadline, there are examples of great acquisitions such as Sabathia by the Brewers in '08 and David Justice by the Yankees in 2000. For all I know Beltran could be the offensive player that helps the Giants to repeat (doubtful, as their offense has been so awful since Buster Posey went out that acquiring Mickey Mantle wouldn't be enough). Everyone labels teams that receive known players as the winners while those who do not make a move are considered the losers. I know prospects are constantly overlooked in baseball, but what about these teams receiving them? This is an unconventional approach, but hear me out. When the dust has settled after the deadline has passed, the Mets have made the best deal while the Giants have made the worst, unless there is an unseen blockbuster.

I am aware that there are talks of trades including Ubaldo Jimenez, Erik Bedard, Hiroki Kuroda, Rafael Furcal, Adam Dunn, and even Hanley Ramirez. I wouldn't count on most of those. The Rockies and Mariners want a lot for Jimenez and Bedard respectively, Furcal's best days are behind him, Adam Dunn seems lost at the plate this season, and if the Marlins give up Hanley they will probably lose all 100 fans that still root for them. The other notable trade that has happened is Kosuke Fukudome traded from the Cubs to the Indians for minor leaguers P Carlton Smith and OF Abner Abreu. This deal was made purely out of desperation on both parties and doesn't have much relevance in my opinion. The Indians needed an outfielder since Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo have been injured, and the Cubs need "prospects" to look like they don't want to set up permanent residence in the basement of the NL. I use the term prospects loosely as Smith is 25 years-old and seems destined to remain in the minors, and Abreu hasn't exactly opened the eyes of scouts (although he is very young and could be a possible utility player at some point). Fukudome is an average outfielder having a below-average season. Basically, this is a pointless trade made by owners to appease fans. Realistically, Fukudome won't put the Indians into the playoffs and neither of the two prospects will be on the lineup card for the Cubs come opening day 2014. What we are dealing with so far this deadline is a lot of speculation, a pointless trade between pointless teams, and the Beltran deal. My point is even though it is 3 days before the actual deadline, the Beltran trade does not seem to have much competition for the most important transaction. The only realistic rival would be if the Yankees or Red Sox could pull the trigger on a deal to obtain Kuroda (check his stats and not just his W-L and you will be surprised).

I have established that this will most likely end up being the most pertinent trade of 2011. So why have I chose the Mets as the winner when the Giants have just received a 3-time Gold Glover, AL Rookie of the Year in '99, and 2-time NL Silver Slugger in Beltran? Because the Mets have just received the 6th overall pick of the '09 draft. Wheeler is 10-8 with a 3.99 ERA, 168 Ks, 85 BBs, and 121 hits in 146 2/3 innings over two seasons in the Class A minors. In 2010 he pitched in the South Atlantic League (Class A full season) and was 3-3 with a 3.99 ERA, 70 Ks, 38 BBs, and 47 hits in 58 2/3 innings. In 2011 he is pitching in the California League (Class A-Advanced, a step above Class A full season and a step below AA) and is 7-5 with a 3.99 ERA, 98 Ks, 47 BBs, and 74 hits in 88 innings. He also gave up 0 home runs in 2010 and was selected to the California League all-star game this season. I realize that's a whole mess of statistics, so what does it actually mean? For a basis of comparison let's look at Mat Latos's stats from 2007, his first year in Class A. In 2007 Latos was 1-4 with a 3.83 ERA, 74 Ks, 22 BBs, and 58 hits in 56 1/3 innings. That's a 1.42 WHIP, about a 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio, and 1.31 strikeouts per inning. Over Wheeler's 2010 season he had 1.45 WHIP, about a 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio, and 1.15 strikeouts per inning. The stats are quite comparable besides Wheeler having a few too many walks, but I challenge you to show me a 21 year-old power pitcher not named Stephen Strasburg who has perfect control. Even with increased walks, he had an almost equal WHIP to Latos since he had such fewer hits per inning. He's gaining control as he matures, proven by his 5.83 walks per 9 innings in 2010 lowered to 4.81 in 2011. In a feeble attempt to shoot down the validity of this comparison, you could point out that Latos has struggled somewhat in 2011. I hate to pick on teams that already make themselves look bad, but the Padres did not handle him correctly. In 2008 Latos pitched 56 innings, in 2009 he pitched 123 innings, and in 2010 he pitched 184 2/3 innings. This averages to a 64 1/3 innings average increase both years, more than double the recommended amount for a young pitcher (about 30 IP depending on who you ask). Despite this heavy increase in workload, Latos had an amazing 2010 season posting a 14-10 record with a 2.92 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 189 Ks. The increase in innings pitched has shown with Latos' 2011 dropoff, but he still has a 4.05 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, and 105 Ks. These numbers are all still respectable and close to the league averages.

I am not by any means stating that Zach Wheeler is better than Mat Latos or will be at some point. Zack Wheeler has a similar minor league career to Mat Latos so far, and Latos has had some immediate success in the majors. Wheeler has unlimited potential as he is still very young, and I believe unexpected injuries are one of the few things that could stop him from bringing the same success to the Mets that the Padres have enjoyed. The Giants themselves were reluctant to part with the righty and many people in the baseball community are praising Sandy Alderson after his first major move as Mets GM acquired one of the highest rated young pitchers. The Giants on the other end of this deal, have a 60 game rental on a 34 year-old OF. Beltran can still put up the numbers, but they traded potential years of success for less than half a season of production. The Mets have made the most beneficial trade so far this deadline because Zack Wheeler has all the tools for a productive MLB career, and Beltran is not enough of an impact player at this point in his career to save the horrendous Giants offense.

-Alex "Skillet" Scarlett

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