Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen said last Friday that the team needed to face its "reality." Part of that reality meant realizing their place in the standings and trading Zack Wheeler before the July 31 trade deadline. On Monday, those plans took a hit.
Wheeler landing on the IL with right shoulder fatigue (reportedly precautionary, he's expected to be fine and return soon) makes any potential trade of him in the next 15 days more complicated. It doesn't torpedo those plans, but it does make Van Wagenen's job harder.
Assuming Wheeler is pretty much fine and returns to start on July 23 or shortly after, here are three scenarios that could play out...
Wheeler returns and is traded
The Mets' asking price on Wheeler before he landed on the IL was very high, according to SNY's Andy Martino. If Wheeler isn't lights out in the one or two starts he makes between now and the deadline, opposing GMs will likely use the IL stint as an excuse to try to get the Mets to take less than they should.
This was always going to be a tricky trade for Van Wagenen since he is trying to move a rental player when there will be similar pitchers under team control beyond 2019 (Marcus Stroman, Trevor Bauer, etc.) available.
If Van Wagenen is offered what he feels Wheeler is worth, he'll move him. But if teams lowball him or the market develops in a way where Wheeler is viewed as surplus, he could stay put. That brings us to...
Wheeler returns, is not traded and Mets extend a qualifying offer
Even before Wheeler's injury, there existed the possibility that the Mets would deem any offer for him unacceptable. Gone are the days of teams (think the Cubs' trade of Gleyber Torres for Aroldis Chapman) dealing their very best prospects for rentals.
If the Mets don't get an offer they deem acceptable, potentially due in part to teams rightly or wrongly being fearful of Wheeler's shoulder, they can simply hold on to Wheeler and extend a qualifying offer to him after the season.
If the above happens and Wheeler rejects the QO, the Mets would get a compensation pick in the 2020 MLB Draft. If the above happens and Wheeler accepts the QO, they'll get a very good pitcher on a one-year deal for roughly $19 million.
Wheeler returns, is not traded and Mets sign him to a contract extension
Wheeler is on record that while he's open to signing an extension. he won't do it while taking a major discount. For the Mets, that would mean paying close to market value in order to extend a 29-year-old pitcher only a few months after they did the same while extending a 30-year-old pitcher.
But if the Mets hang on to Wheeler beyond July 31, opening extension talks could make sense -- especially when you consider that they're slated to lose both Wheeler and Jason Vargas after the season.
As far as potential replacements, Gerrit Cole is set to be a free agent after the season and Stephen Strasburg can opt out of his deal. Those two are probably better bets than Wheeler. But nothing in the Mets' recent history suggests they'll dabble in either of those markets.
Prospect Anthony Kay could be ready to slide in to the Mets' rotation in 2020. Even if he is, though, the Mets have a hole to fill. And if Kay isn't ready, the Mets will have two holes to fill.