In one of the more puzzling Cubs rumors I’ve seen in awhile the team reportedly checked in on New York Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler in recent weeks.
With three weeks until the July 31 trade deadline, it’s officially the time of year where Cubs rumors pop up on a near-daily basis. In short, it’s like Christmas for me – someone who really enjoys the wheeling-and-dealing aspect of the game. But the latest rumblings on the rumor mill caught even me by surprise.
According to reports out of the Big Apple, the Chicago Cubs are among the teams that have checked in on New York Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler.
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In my mind, there’s only one way this makes sense – and it’s not an encouraging set of circumstances to consider if you’re a Cubs fan. If Chicago is seriously on the market for starters, then Cole Hamels’ oblique injury must be far more serious than we’ve been led to believe.
The team has no apparent need in the starting rotation – nor do they need more right-handed help in the bullpen. The only situation where someone like Wheeler, who is in his last year of team control, makes sense is one where the team needs to fill a rotation spot.
Wheeler, 29, has long been considered one of New York’s more promising arms. But, at least to this point, the right-hander hasn’t really put it all together over the course of a full season.
He’s coming off his best campaign in 2018, in which he amassed a career-high 182 1/3 innings of 3.25 FIP ball. He won a career-best 12 games and averaged 8.8 punchouts per nine.
After turning in a 3.31 ERA a year ago, that number has ballooned in 2019 – all the way to an unsightly 4.65 mark in 19 starts. His peripherals suggest he hasn’t been quite that poor on the mound, but he’ll definitely need to keep the ball in the yard more often if he’s going to tap into his full potential.
There’s no questioning this kid’s stuff – he’s got a big league quality repertoire, period. But regardless of his stuff, he doesn’t check a lot of boxes for the Cubs outside of the front office’s repeated insistence on adding more velocity and swing-and-miss stuff to the pitching staff.
Even without Hamels in the mix, Chicago enters the first half with Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana cemented in the starting rotation. Adbert Alzolay, who was a bit of a mixed bag in his first few starts with the team, has been told he’ll have a role to play down the stretch, conceivably slotting into Hamels’ spot in the rotation until the veteran returns.
On top of it all, Wheeler is in his last year of control. I guess I could see Chicago having more interest in a guy who has multiple years left, in theory giving Theo Epstein and the front office options when it comes to the staff heading into 2020.
The club holds a team option on Jose Quintana for next season. Hamels is playing out his $20 million option this year and will hit free agency this winter. Lester, meanwhile, is entering his final year of guaranteed control in 2020 (although the Cubs hold a team option on the lefty for 2021, and it’s pretty hard to imagine a scenario where they don’t pick it up).
But all of that’s pretty irrelevant when it comes to Zack Wheeler. Sure, he’s a high-ceiling guy, but he doesn’t address any of the Cubs’ needs heading into the second half with their eye on bringing home a third National League Central crown in the last four years.