Exploring the idea of the Padres signing Zack Wheeler

Credit: Steve Mitchell USA Today Sports

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Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Exploring the idea of the San Diego Padres signing Zack Wheeler this winter.

The ultimate destinations for top pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole will be the top story this offseason in Major League baseball. Either pitcher would completely change the dynamic for the Padres’ expectations next season. Imagine a rotation of Strasburg or Cole followed by Chris Paddack, Garrett Richards, and Dinelson Lamet.

But the Padres face competition from multiple teams in a bidding war for the services of either and may need to set their sights just a bit lower. A pitcher like Zack Wheeler fits that bill. The San Francisco Giants drafted Wheeler in 2009 and traded him to the New York Meets in 2011. At 29, he compiled 4.1 WAR last year with a 3.96 ERA, 3.27 FIP, and 1.259 WHIP over 195.1 innings. He struck out 195 batters and walked just 50.  Other teams have already expressed interest in Wheeler, including the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, so the Padres will have to open their wallet to acquire the second-tier starter.

While still young, Wheeler has more experience than a Paddack or Lamet, having started his career in 2013 at the age of 23. He averages 96.7 on his fastball and throws two hard breaking pitches as well as a changeup. Ben Clemens of FanGraphs (“Zack Wheeler is Good, But Not as Good as He Could Be“), labels Wheeler as the “the kind of guy you’d love to have as a No. 2 starter and one who can fake it as a No. 1.”  Clemens concludes that tweaks, including increasing breaking pitches to put hitters away, could raise Wheeler’s profile to true ace status.

In the past, the Padres could count on the pitcher whisperer known as Darren Balsley to take a mediocre pitcher and turn him into a serviceable one and to achieve even better results with those with real talent. However, in the surprise of the offseason so far, the team has parted ways with Balsley, who had been a Padres’ mainstay since May 2003. Balsley will be replaced at the Major League level by the 65-year-old Larry Rothschild, who spent nine seasons with the New York Yankees as pitching coach. Balsley will reportedly remain with the team working with minor leaguers.

After two promising years in the big leagues, Wheeler was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in March 2015 and underwent Tommy John surgery. He lost all of that year and most of the subsequent season thanks to a flexor strain in his right arm. But Wheeler is coming off two healthy seasons and has fewer than 800 innings on his arm in his career.  Overall he has compiled a 44-38 record, 3.77 ERA, 1.294 WHIP, and a total WAR of 12.6, according to FanGraphs.

Other tempting starters may become available over the winter but would require that general manager A.J. Preller give up coveted prospects, which he has been reluctant to do. With the payroll estimated to be around $120 million range (a figure never approached in the history of the franchise), the amount of wiggle room Preller will be allowed remains to be seen.  But Wheeler most certainly will not demand any sum close to that of the $32.9 million a year proposed by Spotrac for Gerrit Cole.

With luck, Zack Wheeler could be the next best thing to a Cole or a Strasburg.

15 thoughts on “Exploring the idea of the Padres signing Zack Wheeler

  1. Wheeler is going to be too pricey in years and dollars
    Also when has he ever been more than the number 3 guy in New York? Now he’s gonna have to be the guy in San Diego with a big contract to live up to? The better value for us is Madbum. Sure he’s got lots of mileage but he’s a lefty who’s a proven winner.

  2. Phenomenal article. Due to the difference in dollars and prospects, i’m very much so on the Wheeler train.

    Stras is looking at 10M more/year from rumors, Thor would require prospects. I’d love Wheeler with our prospects being used to fix the OF and/or consolidate young spread out talent for higher end closer to MLB talent (From a prospect perspective, like with trammel).

    1. Thanks for the high praise, BK,
      Multiple people have jumped on the Wheeler train with you. This offseason, more than any since Preller took over, has us all wondering which direction the Padres will go.
      Your comments are much appreciated.

    2. Hi John,
      By now it appears the Padres won’t be picking up any of the top tier or second tier pitchers. Of course money is the issue and the contracts for Myers and Hosmer will dictate the caliber of players.
      Frankly I am befuddled by the thought process in the front office. The gripe has always been the penny-pinching. Now, when they have the highest payroll ever the team still can’t manage to break even.
      MadBum in brown would be downright weird…
      Thanks for taking the time to write.

  3. Now that O accepted MN QO and is returning, the price of pitching goes up. I think if the pads decide against spending money, they will likely settle into another mediocre season. I think they’ll go above .500 if they make trades, but no better than 2nd in our division and 10 back of WC contention. I’d go after Wheeler hard and make that statement. It still retains ALL of our trade chips for another starter. If the Japanese center fielder isn’t too expensive, add him. Offload Myers along with Urias, Margo, and two prospects for someone’s young controllable starter who is in rebuild mode. I’d let Garcia and Ty platoon first and Ty get used at 1st platooning with Hosmer. We would still have lots of trade chips in catching and pitching to fill in the BP and outfield.

  4. Lots of good thoughts here.

    I would be willing to trade Yates, Urias, Naylor, Torrens, Renfroe, Kinsler, Margavicius, and Lauer in deals that were for equal value or better. That’s significant value.

    I think Hosmer back to KC is worth exploring. With Margavicius for Mondesi Jr for a flip? I have no desire to move him, but the move off first was the decline of Myers. Put him there every day, he’ll not only regain value, but be All-Star caliber again in my opinion. Things have just changed.

    What would a year of Yates return from say Minnesota? Arraez? Over 300 ABs at .334/.399 from the left side at 22. What about extending KY and then asking for Kiriloff, too?

    Maybe Hoz to Boston. Price is neither very good nor healthy anymore. But, Sale, if he passed the medicals, would be a good add.

    Renfroe, Lauer, and Torrens to the Pirates for Marte and Vazquez?

    Sign Dickerson. Sign Salazar. Sign Moreland or Smoak. Sign Gennett. Sign Wheeler, Odorizzi, Roark, Wacha, or Wood

    C Mejia
    1B Moreland
    2B Gennett
    SS Tatis Jr
    3B Machado
    LF Dickerson
    CF Marte
    RF Myers

    Bench: Arraez, Hedges, Margot, Cordero, Allen, France

    1 Sale
    2 Wheeler
    3 Paddack
    4 Lucchesi
    5 Lamet or Richards

    CL Munoz
    8 Vazquez
    7 Salazar
    Mid Lamet or Richards
    Mid Strahm
    Mid Castillo
    Mid Reyes
    Mid Perdomo
    LR Quantril

    Not sure about the long-term everyday, but the offense would be decidedly better while the farm grows the next prospect harvest. Marte and Myers, Sale and Wheeler would be tradable in a year if desired.

    1. @billy
      Hoz has a no trade clause.

      Even if he didn’t – No one wants him, he gets paid way way too much and he’s actually fairly bad. Worst 1B in baseball last year.

      2nd place in the NL West would be almost impossible to be 10 games back in the WC.

  5. Good thoughts and ideas Tom. Preller needs to get creative and soon. I think the longer he waits, the less he’ll get as teams figure out things and approach other teams early. I don’t thing Cole or Strasburg will land in SD. With that being my mindset, go offer Wheeler the 5/100 they are rumoring for him right now. Maybe a quick hit will be what moves him to just get it done. If he balks, maybe approach another of those 2nd tier pitchers wanting less years and money. Sign someone(s) early and make a statement!
    Moving Myers won’t be easy so I’m thinking we’ll need to platoon him with Hosmer and the outfield and hope he improves for a trade at the deadline if need be/desired. I wouldn’t spend on a high priced reliever. Too many available who can fill in. We should also assume improvement from the younger ones already in our bullpen and system. I hope we’ll grab the best LH pitcher available in the rule 5 draft and use him in long relief /blow out games as we stash him as our 26th player. Give Kinsler away with a prospect for a six pack of beer to be named later.

    1. Hello Tony c,
      I agree about Preller needing to act sooner rather than later.
      With a couple of tweaks, Wheeler could possibly reach another level.
      You are absolutely right about Myers. The Padres’ mishandling of him (third base? really?!) has made him untradeable unless they eat a good part of his contract and/or package him with highly-rated prospects. Platooning him at first and having him play in left field exclusively would give him a chance to pull himself together. He is talented (although seems to be a bit of an airhead).
      Thanks for your input.

  6. Wheeler would be perfect. If you believe that the Padres WS Window opens in 2022, when Patino, Gore, and Paddack have 2-3 years of MLB experience, then adding Wheeler who could slot into the #2 or #3 spot in the rotation would be perfect and not break the bank. This would allow the Padres to get potentially Marte and Dickerson [good lefty bat] to add to the outfield. Slot Marte in CF and platoon Dickerson and Renfroe. One Free Agent not talked about is Will Smith of the Giants. I would sign him as our setup man [a position he held for the Giants before becoming their closer]. A trio of Yates-Smith-Munoz for the 7th-8th-9th inning sure would shorten the game.

    1. Hi Daniel,
      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. The front office has moved the goalposts which is a bit confusing. I thought 2020 opened the window of contention (or whatever).
      But your point is well taken that Patino, Gore, and Paddack would have experienced at least a couple of years of the big leagues by that time.

  7. Wheeler could be a good addition, but the team should pursue Cole and Strasburg as well. Just because the GM and ownership were dumb enough to extend Myers and sign Hosmer is no reason the fans have to suffer. If a billionaire ownership group makes a blunder, it needs to suck it up and accept less profits as a result. It cannot ask the fanbase to accept a lousy team.
    If there really is a need to trim payroll to afford a Cole or a Wheeler, then the team needs to be creative. It can trade Myers and save at least some of that mistake. It could execute a large trade of prospects for proven talent and force Kinsler into the deal as a way to save a little salary. It could also start coloring well outside the lines and trade Hosmer. This would be painful. But a trade of Hosmer + prospects for Price of Boston might lessen the need to acquire a free agent pitcher, just as an example.
    It could also do all 3, and clear enough payroll to either sign free agent talent or to trade for proven players. We read all the time how creative Preller is, now would be a good time to demonstrate it.

    1. Hello Tom,
      I couldn’t agree more about the Hosmer contract and Myers extension. The front office needs to suck it up, shed as much $$ as possible by combining sought after prospects with guys like Myers, and at least try to land Strasburg or Cole. If that fails, they need to acquire a pitcher like Wheeler.
      Preller has to be willing to give up his own prospects, not just someone else’s.
      Thanks for your input,

      1. The problem with Wheeler is both years and dollars. MLB Trade Rumors has him pegged for 5 years and $100 million, though one MLBTR writer thinks 5/$90M is his real value. With so many contending teams needing starters, the 5/$100M might be low. Then the Padres would be out – they can’t ship out Myers or Hosmer without including cash. That would blow the budget short term.

        Now the Padres are looking at Bumgarner, pegged by MLBTR at 4/$72M. That’s more in the Padres ballpark. The Braves are looking hard at Madbum, but they’re not likely to get into a bidding war for him. If Cole and Strasburg come anywhere near what Scott Boras is demanding, Wheeler will be out, and Madbum would be the next target. I have a bad feeling though that the Padres will have to settle for somebody like Teheran.

        1. Hi LarryLarry,
          The contracts for Hosmer and Myers have unfortunately backed the Padres into a corner. They don’t want to bust the budget by going after a front line starter.
          I worry about the number of miles on MadBum’s arm among other factors.
          Also, with Preller’s fascination with his own prospects, he may just punt and expect Paddack, along with Gore and Patino to fill that need. I fear that would be a mistake.
          Thanks for the comment,

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