Why Zack Wheeler will not pitch for the Mets in April
Mets manager Terry Collins reiterated Tuesday that despite all the injuries to the rotation, Zack Wheeler is not a consideration to slide into the Opening Day rotation.
“There’s a reason why we sent him out,” Collins said. “He needs to go to Triple-A. He needs to face hitters in Triple-A. … He needs to go work on his stuff, and he needs to be able to do what he did toward midseason [last year], and that is pound the strike zone. Thus far, in the games he’s thrown over there, they said he’s been a little wild.”
The unspoken reason, of course, is service time. Should Wheeler accrue enough of it to become a Super Two player after the 2015 season, he would suddenly become eligible for free agency after the 2018 season as opposed to 2019 — at a time when the Mets could be highly competitive.
What’s more, Super Two status would give Wheeler four years of arbitration eligibility as opposed to the usual three. Should he develop into the type of ace that everyone expects, that would ultimately cost the Mets million of dollars and increase their starting point for free agency negotiations (which, of course, would begin a full year sooner). It’s an escalating factor, because arbitration salaries are based heavily upon what players made the previous year.
A prime example is Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels, who made $4.2 million as a Super Two player in 2009. By his fourth year of arbitration eligibility he was up to $15 million, blowing away MLB’s previous arbitration record. He and the Phillies then had a higher number to use as a reference when Hamels signed a $144-million megadeal last summer.
In other words, starting Wheeler in April as opposed to June could damage the team’s future payroll flexibility, at a time when they might otherwise be highly competitive in the free-agent market. The counterargument is that increased ticket sales in April and May would make up some of that money. The reality is that they would not come close.
It’s an awfully high cost for a team projected to lose close to 100 games, just for a few extra starts from Wheeler — who may not be 100 percent big league-ready anyway — in 2013. So criticize the Mets for being cheap on numerous occasions over the past few years if you want, but do not blame them for it here. This move is not cheap; it’s simply prudent.
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