Remember that time the Yankees signed DJ LeMahieu instead of Manny Machado?
Now they should try to replicate that on the pitching side.
Even with Gerrit Cole on the market, the Yankees should keep Zack Wheeler in New York.
OK, everyone calm down. I know it’s not apples to apples; LeMahieu ($24 million) cost 8 percent of Machado ($300 million), and the longtime Met Wheeler will likely wind up collecting about 30 percent of what Cole gets. Moreover, I’m sure as heck not advocating that the Yankees cheap out and pass on Cole altogether; they should pursue him. Contrary to popular belief, however, not every player chooses the highest contract, and I’m betting the Angels, having just hired Joe Maddon to manage them, will make it very worth the Orange County native Cole’s while to come home.
And in the Georgia native Wheeler, the Yankees would get themselves a very appealing Plan B who, if not a New Yorker by birth, has made this place a second home thanks to his rise with the Mets, whose new manager Carlos Beltran brought Wheeler to the Big Apple from the Giants in Sandy Alderson’s terrific 2011 trade.
Wheeler’s agent B.B. Abbott will be at the general managers’ meetings next week, and you can bet on Brian Cashman’s group being among those to meet with Abbott and discuss its interest in Wheeler, whom the Yankees have long liked and tried to acquire last July when the Mets contemplated trading him.
Last season, his platform year, Wheeler set a career high with 195 strikeouts in 195 ⅓ innings, tying him with the Twins’ Jose Berrios for 24th overall in the major leagues. If that doesn’t impress you as much as Cole’s 326 strikeouts in 212 ⅓ innings, remind yourself that it’s all relative.
Either right-hander would have led the Yankees in strikeouts, as James Paxton paced the American League East champions with 186 strikeouts in 150 ⅔ innings.
Yes, common sense says Wheeler’s strikeout count would drop in a switch from the National League to the AL, and a move to Yankee Stadium likely would lead to more of his fly balls leaving the park. The trade-off would come in Wheeler playing in front of a superior defense, including LeMahieu, than he enjoyed in Queens.
Last year, Wheeler posted a 3.96 ERA and 3.48 FIP, meaning he suffered from misfortune and inadequacy behind him.
The 29-year-old endured quite a lot from his 2011 trade to free agency, and that should make him all the more attractive to the Yankees, where Cashman acknowledges some guys — Sonny Gray, Kenny Rogers and the rest — just aren’t cut out for our sordid little burg.
Consider: He joined the Mets organization at age 21 with huge hype, worked his way up to the majors, underwent Tommy John surgery that cost him two full seasons — and his first year back, 2017, proved no picnic, either — and pushed aside countless trade rumors along with the standard Mets mismanagement in order to establish himself as one of the most compelling arms in a pitcher-heavy free-agent class.
The fact he actually likes New York — he sometimes explores Manhattan during off days — is another reason to like him back. And to be more aggressive than Wheeler’s hometown Braves, who want to find a third baseman (Josh Donaldson is a free agent) as well as a starting pitcher.
Wheeler won’t be cheap, for sure. In addition to his contract — I predicted he’ll get $85 million over four years — the Yankees, as a luxury-tax payer, would have to give up their second- and fifth-round draft picks, plus $1 million in their international bonus pool, because the Mets extended the qualifying offer to Wheeler. He’s worth those costs and risks. With Paxton entering his walk year and the Baby Bombers well into toddlerhood, the Yankees must pounce and upgrade their weakest unit.
Try for Plan A (Cole), get Plan B done and weaken the crosstown rivals in the process. Simple enough, right? Now, if the Yankees get outbid for Wheeler, we’re all going to need to have a talk with them.
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