Prospect Three-Day Weekend: Zack Wheeler edition

So after much ado, the big prospect the Mets finally received for Carlos Beltran was Zack Wheeler, which makes complete sense to anyone who really gave it a second thought.

The Mets were looking for a top-flight pitching prospect and were talking primarily with the Braves and Mets. The Mets were hoping the Braves would bite, and would part ways with Mike Minor, a former first-round pick (ironically taken one pick after Wheeler in the 2009 draft) who has spent time in the majors and whose future is much easier to predict than Wheeler’s.*

The Braves weren’t willing to part with a pitcher they know should be at least a back-of-the-rotation guy as soon as they have a vacancy, which could be as early as next year, for a two-month rental. They did that for Mark Teixeira a few years ago and miss Neftali Feliz and Elvis Andrus every day.

*This is assuming, of course, that the Mets asked about Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado and were laughed off the phone.

The Giants have typically played by the same rules during the Brian Sabean era, not wanting to part with prospects in exchange for immediate help, especially when it is of the half-season variety. But in this case, Sabean identified that the Giants have an opportunity to repeat as champions, but not without an impact bat.

So who wins in this trade?

We have no idea, of course, and won’t for some time. If Beltran puts on a performance like he did last time he was traded midseason, when he slugged .559 for the Astros and stole 28 bases without being caught, then that might be enough to help the Giants repeat, a prize for which there is almost no cost too high. Of course, if Zack Wheeler wins multiple Cy Young Awards in a Mets uniform, then the Giants had better win another title with Beltran to justify their side of the deal.

We don’t know the chances of either happening, but here at the Prospect Three-day Weekend, we like to look at the prospect side of things, so let’s focus on Wheeler.

The questions are, did the Mets get enough, did the Giants give up too much, or is this about right?

Given the market, it seems about right. All the bidders knew that a top pitching prospect was going to be the cost, and there was certainly a multi-team market for Beltran (with the Phillies and others also kicking the tires). For the Giants, Wheeler is clearly their top pitching prospect, whereas for the Braves, Minor is not. In this instance, the Mets appear to have done well.

But there is also a price to be paid for certainty. Mike Minor will be a major league pitcher. He will, barring unforeseen injury, have a nice major league career. Perhaps it won’t be as a starter, but at the very least he is left-handed, so if he can’t stick in a rotation he can carve a niche as a relief option/long-man. If Bruce Chen is still finding work, Mike Minor will stick around for a while.

Wheeler, on the other hand, is far from a sure thing. And that’s not a knock on Wheeler. It’s just the reality of 21-year-olds in High-A ball.

That is likely why the Giants were willing to break with their pattern and part with Wheeler. Is the possible reward of adding Beltran and prepping for a playoff run not worth the risk of an A-ball pitcher who has thrown fewer than 150 professional innings?

The same draft that included Wheeler included another prep pitcher who was as highly regarded but fell to later in the first round due to his asking price—Shelby Miller. Miller was selected 19th by the Cardinals and has torched the minors ever since. Entering professional ball in the same relative circumstance as Wheeler, Miller has progressed much closer to the majors than his prep counterpart. Even if the Cardinals were interested in Beltran, they would not have parted with Miller. Wheeler could be Shelby Miller down the road: The arsenal of stuff is there. But he hasn’t shown it yet, and he’s much further away.

The Mets were happy to aim high and go for the player with the loftier ceiling once once Minor, the safer bet, was off the table. In this case, certainty wasn’t an option, so the Mets did a nice job of getting the highest amount of potential possible in return.

Too often we judge trades down the road based on the outcome. If Wheeler ends up being an ace, then people will say the Giants gave up too much. If Wheeler never makes the majors, those same people will say the Mets didn’t get enough. The reality is, given the market and the teams involved, this trade makes complete sense for both sides, regardless of what happens in San Francisco in the next few months, or in the Mets farm system the next few years.

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