Exploring the idea of the Padres signing Zack Wheeler

Credit: Steve Mitchell USA Today Sports

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.

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Diane Calkins
Baseball has been a part of Diane's life since her father played professionally (mostly at the minor league level). She has written for a number of publications and concentrated on companion animal welfare. She welcomes the opportunity to write about the sport she loves. Diane shares her home with her husband and a house full of rescued animals.
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John Boccia
John Boccia
2 years ago

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.

BK
BK
2 years ago

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).

Diane Calkins
Diane Calkins
2 years ago
Reply to  BK

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.
Diane

Diane Calkins
Diane Calkins
2 years ago
Reply to  BK

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.
Diane

TonyC
TonyC
2 years ago

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… Read more »

Billy Bobaloo
Billy Bobaloo
2 years ago

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… Read more »

BK
BK
2 years ago
Reply to  Billy Bobaloo

@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.

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

Tony c
Tony c
2 years ago

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… Read more »

Diane Calkins
Diane Calkins
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony c

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.
Diane

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