Zack Wheeler hit a homer in 2019, the first such blast of his career. His .561 OPS in a career high 64 PA last year raised his career mark to a bawdy .371, though to date he’s still never once tripled.
Hardly the kind of offensive upgrade sought by the Cincinnati Reds this winter, it would appear. Fortunately, though, Wheeler packs quite the ability to throw the baseball with his pitcher-like offense, and despite the Reds seemingly being set in their rotational ways, it appears Cincinnati does have interest in the free agent righty. So says The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal in today’s notes column, quoting an agent who says of the Reds “I will be shocked if they don’t spend big” in the wake of losing out on Yasmani Grandal to the Chicago White Sox.
But, another pitcher? If they’re going to spend big, shouldn’t their focus be on the offense and a player like, I dunno, Yasmani Grandal?
Offense clearly was an issue for the Reds in 2019, but if you take your binary goggles off for a second, you can also see that the addition of Wheeler would both a) still make the Reds a better club for 2020 than they currently project to be, and b) still make some sense for the long-term view of the club, too. While the rotation does appear to be stacked with the likes of Trevor Bauer, Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, and Anthony DeSclafani all set to be stalwarts, each of Bauer and Disco will be free agents after the 2020 season, and bringing in Wheeler on a multi-year deal would go a long way towards helping sustain any success found in the 2020 season.
Wheeler, originally a 1st round pick of the San Francisco Giants a decade ago before being flipped to the Mets in a deal for Carlos Beltran, fought injuries early in his big league career, but has since emerged as a rock-solid option every fifth day. Since the start of the 2018 season, he’s pitched to a tidy 3.65 ERA and 3.27 FIP in some 377.2 IP, striking out right at a batter per inning. FanGraphs has valued his last two campaigns at a total of 8.9 fWAR, making him the 10th most valuable pitcher in all of baseball in that span (min 200 total IP).
His fastball in that time has averaged a rippin’ 96.3 mph, too, the 6th fastest average velocity among that group of 128 pitchers.
That’s good. That’s very, very good.
Wheeler might not be the best fit in the world, and he certainly might not be the Reds primary target of the winter, but it’s clear that he would be an upgrade, if not a luxury item, for the 2020 playoff push. And if it’s to be believed that the Reds are willing, and trying, to spend big, some free agent is going to have to say ‘yes’ to their offers to make that spending happen, and if Wheeler’s the one who’s going to do so, the Reds certainly could find worse ways to spend their flow.