Early this year, reports indicated that the Mets were players in the Justin Upton sweepstakes but for the steep asking price, namely Zack Wheeler. Sandy Alderson admitted as much during a mid-February interview with Sports Pope Mike Francesa, "We weren’t prepared to trade Wheeler…" But should he have been?
Upton is a player who is one year removed from being named by renowned foodie and respected talent evaluator, Keith Law, as the top player under 25 in all of baseball. And that one year featured a 280/355/430 triple slash which should make any Mets fan drool, especially looking at who will be roaming the outfield in his stead come April. Upton is under contract through 2015, which takes him through his 28th birthday, and at a reasonable cost, so what kind of performance do we need from Wheeler to justify not including him in a potential Upton deal?
First and foremost, he must get to the majors (a foregone conclusion at this point) and become an above average starter (certainly not inevitable). How likely is this to happen? Well, rather than just saying TINSTAAPP and dropping the mic, we can point to some crude, back-of-the-notebook research of recent highly rated pitching prospects. To steal from the conclusion "roughly half of the top pitching prospects actually become stars, for even a single season." I like those odds in the aggregate, not in a one-off case where the alternative is having Upton for the next three seasons.
We also need to look at this from the broader perspective of the Mets’ rebuilding process. Pitching is currently the strength of both the major league squad and our minors. The outfield, not so much. And while that Grantland piece is nothing more than link baiting, even the most optimistic assessment of the outfield offers an upside of merely slightly below average. It is apparent at this point that the outfield will need to be upgraded by bringing in some outside talent. There is no permanent solution to any of the outfield positions that is currently on the major league roster or in our minors at A+ ball or above. You can argue Duda all you want, but that defense, oh my. This makes the decision to keep Wheeler off-limits in negotiations almost baffling.
Take this Mets opening day roster and sub in Upton in left and Bourne in center. This is not an unreasonable hypothetical. Toss d’Arnaud behind the plate and the lineup suddenly becomes downright formidable. Unfortunately for Mets fans, we can only wonder what could have been as we watch Upton patrol the outfield for Atlanta during the next three seasons while we hope and pray that Wheeler is not just another TINSTAAPP cautionary tale.