It looked like Zack Wheeler was being shipped to Milwaukee last night. Until he wasn't. Now he is still a Met, and he is still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
Many fans were not entirely comfortable with trading a young pitcher like Wheeler, and the feeling is understandable. The 25-year-old holds a 3.50 ERA over his first two big league seasons, including a 2.93 ERA over his final 18 starts of 2014. With a high-90s fastball and an effective arsenal of off-speed pitches, Wheeler has the potential to stand right alongside the rest of the Mets' young pitchers.
However, two undeniable truths about the Mets make Wheeler expendable. The first is an abundance of pitching depth. The Mets have the third-best team ERA in baseball without Wheeler this season. Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, and Jon Niese have all been spectacular lately, so the Mets have enough star power in their rotation to survive without Wheeler. All of these players are under team control for the foreseeable future, so dealing with departures is not a pressing issue.
The second of these truths centers around the lineup: It simply is not good enough to support its pitching staff and make a credible postseason run. The Mets made progress in trading for rentals Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson, but there is still work to be done. Aside from Michael Conforto, it does not look like any of the organization's positional prospects will contribute to the team this year.
Shipping Wheeler away for a rental player would be irresponsible considering the Mets' youth. The Mets need not go all-in for this season, especially with their pitchers under control for a while. However, if they could acquire a young position player with multiple years of affordable control remaining, Wheeler, who may be most valuable to the Mets as trade bait, should be made available.
It may generally be wise for the Mets to trade one of their young pitchers for a hitter under team control for multiple seasons. Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, and Noah Syndergaard have to be considered untouchable at this point, and Steven Matz is reportedly held in that regard, too. Jon Niese is another name that garners a lot of trade speculation, but the potential return on Niese would be considerably lower than those others.
That leaves Wheeler. Although he has the potential to be as good as any pitcher in the Mets' rotation, trading him might have to happen in order for this team to add a young, impact bat. If the right deal presents itself, the Mets should not hesitate to part ways with the youngster, however reluctant they may be to do so.