Legit chance? Yes. Likely? Probably not.
So much can happen between now and next spring, but Wheeler should be promoted to Triple-A soon. Figuring the Mets will want to limit his innings to around 150 — he’s at 101 2/3 now — he’ll probably only get a handful of starts at the Minors’ highest level before the end of the season.
Wheeler still walks batters at a pretty high rate, and I suspect the Mets would want to see evidence that he has cut that down before they promote him. The good news is his walk rate has steadily declined as he has advanced through the Minors — 5.8 BB9 in Low A in 2010, then 4.1 BB9 in High A in 2011, and now 3.2 BB9 in Double-A in 2012. Also, he allows very few hits and home runs, which implies he yields mostly weak contact.
Provided he’s healthy, Wheeler will get an invite to big-league camp in Spring Training. There — again, provided health — he will likely join Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey, Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, Matt Harvey, Jeurys Familia, Jenrry Mejia, whoever else survives the coming 40-man roster crunch, and whomever the Mets add to the 40-man roster to protect from the Rule 5 Draft.
Wheeler is reputed to have more talent than a lot of those guys, so maybe if he shines in Spring Training and the Mets decide he has nothing left to prove in the Minors, he’ll make the team. The front office appears to be pretty conservative with promoting its pitching prospects, though, so if I had to bet, I’d guess Wheeler starts next season in Triple-A and (given continued success) joins the big club whenever it first has a need.
My thoughts are this: I agree. Not for a rental, at least. If the Mets were trading for a guy — at any position, really — with an established level of success that they’d have under control for the next few years, then sure, trade prospects. If the Mets were trading for a guy signed through the end of 2012, then they shouldn’t give up anything they think will help them in the future. Winning a Wild Card means entry to a one-game play-in, like you say. And besides that, relievers are fickle. Remember how much better the Mets’ bullpen looked on paper coming into 2012 than it has looked on the field in 2012? There are very few closers that come with guaranteed success in the role, and fewer yet that will be available at this trade deadline. Buying one on behalf of the 2012 season — when the rest of the bullpen will still be the rest of the bullpen, when the team still won’t hit lefties or play good defense — at the possible detriment to 2013-2015, seems silly.
Could he benefit from more regular at-bats in Buffalo? Probably. Would I send him down if I were in charge? Probably not. Though he has certainly struggled, Nieuwenhuis still offers value to the Mets, and the Mets are still trying to win as much games as they can.
Against righties this year, Nieuwenhuis has a .782 OPS. Jason Bay’s OPS against righties for the last two years is more than 150 points lower. Nieuwenhuis is rangy on defense and fast on the basepaths.
It seems about time the Mets stop giving Bay regular starts against right-handers. If he starts crushing lefties enough for anyone to suspect he can hit like the 2009-vintage Jason Bay again, then by all means, play him every day again. At this point, though, with slew of lefties that appear apt to out-hit Bay against righties and the team still in contention, penciling him into the lineup daily hurts the team.
So if it were up to me — and it’s not, thankfully — I’m keeping Nieuwenhuis around and playing him against righty starters, hoping he adjusts and breaks out of his slump. Whenever Mike Baxter is ready to return, I reassess. But that’s down the road.
Via email, Luke writes:
I like Terry Collins, but his use of Miguel Batista in high leverage situations drives me into a furious rage, and I break things. How do you feel about it?
I was perhaps Batista’s last apologist among Mets fans in 2012 since I’m fascinated by the way he always puts up woeful peripherals but an above-average ERA. But yeah, the sight of Batista warming up in late innings of a tight game is certainly frustrating. The thing is, if Bobby Parnell’s the interim closer, which member of the Mets’ bullpen would you want to see warming up in the late innings of a tight game? Ramon Ramirez has probably pitched his way into more responsibility, but that’s pretty much it.
A few more good email questions came in after I wrote this, but I’m closing in on 800 words so I’m going to stop here. I’ll get to the ones that are still relevant in future mailbag posts.