Welcome to the Mets' worst nightmare.
Zack Wheeler has signed with the Phillies on a five-year, $118 million deal, a source close to the pitcher told the Daily News on Wednesday afternoon. The Athletic first reported the news.
Wheeler will remain in the National League East and pester his former team alongside a Phillies starting rotation that includes Aaron Nola, Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin and Jake Arrieta - all led by their new manager Joe Girardi, who also interviewed for the Mets' managerial vacancy earlier this offseason.
The 29-year-old right-hander sent the Hot Stove into a frenzy early this week when multiple teams, including the White Sox, Astros, Reds, Twins and Rangers all tossed their hats into the ring for Wheeler.
The Mets will receive draft-pick compensation in the third round because Wheeler rejected their one-year, $17.8 million qualifying offer last month. Even though Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen indicated the Mets would continue to pursue Wheeler, they remained quiet when the sweepstakes were heating up this week.
The deal comes as a huge blow to the Mets if Wheeler picks up with the Phillies where he left off in Queens. The right-hander set career-highs in strikeouts (195) and innings pitched (195.1) while going 11-8 with a 3.96 ERA over 31 starts. 2019 was his second straight season with double-digit wins, and the third of his career.
Brandon Nimmo and J.D. Davis, who spoke at Citi Field on Wednesday after the Mets hosted their annual Kids Holiday Party, both agreed it would be disheartening if the division rival Phillies ended up signing Wheeler.
"He's a great pitcher, but this whole division is stacked with pitchers," Nimmo said. "Last year, it was Strasburg and Scherzer and then nobody even really mentioned the Marlins had a great pitching staff in that young core that they've got.
"It's just going to be tough day in and day out. That's just the way it is. So our offense is just going to need to be up to the challenge," he said.
Suddenly, the possibility of the Phillies bolstering their rotation with a pitcher that's extremely familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of the Mets offense becomes a reality.
"He knows all of us hitters very well," Davis said. "He's a great pitcher, great stuff. I only wish the best for him. I hope the Mets can get him back on our side. We'll see how it goes. If he goes to Philly, that's a little problematic." © GettyWASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 05: Zack Wheeler #45 of the New York Mets pitches during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on September 5, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
The Mets are much quieter this offseason than last, when Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen acquired Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz a week before the 2018 Winter Meetings even began. Meanwhile, another division rival in the Braves signed left-hander Cole Hamels on Wednesday morning to further shake up the competition in NL East.
"It's going to be a dogfight and very similar to what last year was like," Nimmo said. "And to be honest with you, I think our team and our offense can handle it and it's just going to take us staying healthy."
The Mets are now left with a hole in their rotation that they may be planning to fill with internal options. Relievers Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman were both mentioned as potential rotation upgrades by Van Wagenen during the Winter Meetings.
The Mets flirted with the idea of trading Wheeler ahead of the July 31 deadline earlier this year, but Van Wagenen instead strengthened his rotation by acquiring right-hander Marcus Stroman from the Blue Jays. Wheeler responded by posting a 1.80 ERA over his final six starts of 2019 - placing himself in an attractive position for the current starting pitcher market.
Now, the Mets are left only with draft-pick compensation, instead of trading Wheeler for an upgrade that would have made more sense for the 2020 season. The Amazin's will enter the year as a win-now team, and Wheeler would have been a more reliable win-now move in the rotation than Lugo or Gsellman
"I still think (the rotation) is strong," Nimmo said. "There's been some conversation about Seth Lugo filling in there. I played with him all through the minor leagues when he was a starter and he was just as effective as he's been out of the bullpen. We all know what he's capable of."
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