Zack Wheeler finally stood on the mound in San Francisco on July 10, 2013, four years after the Giants selected him with the No. 6 pick in the 2009 MLB Draft. There was one problem, though: Wheeler was wearing a Mets jersey instead of having "Giants" across his chest.
It has been over six years since Wheeler first pitched in San Francisco, and he now finds himself in an interesting and ironically comical place. The man the Giants traded him for, Carlos Beltran, recently was named manager of none other than the Mets right as Wheeler becomes a free agent for the first time. And you know who could use Wheeler right now?
As The Athletic's Grant Brisbee put it on Monday, "about a tenth of one percent of this has to do with the scenario being funny." Let's face it -- the scenario's hilarious. The reality, however, is Wheeler truly might be the perfect fit for the Giants this offseason.
Wheeler now is 29 years old and will turn 30 in May. The right-hander is ranked as Jim Bowden's No. 6 free agent, and the former general manager predicts Wheeler will sign a four-year, $74 million contract, which is $10 million less than Bowden has Bumgarner making on the open market. MLB Trade Rumors placed a more expensive price tag on Wheeler at five years and $100 million.
There's no perfect formula to predict contracts, but it's easy to see Wheeler fall in that gap between $70-100 million. Those figures also would fit much more in line with what Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi is likely to spend, as opposed to, say, Gerrit Cole-type money.
For his past and future trajectory, Wheeler is one of the most interesting and talented free agents this offseason. He had Tommy John surgery in 2015 and wound up spending two-and-a-half years away from a major league mound. The past two seasons, he has proven to be fully healthy and one of the best arms in baseball.
Wheeler has a 3.65 ERA over 60 starts the last two years, while averaging 189 innings pitched per season. He has a 1.19 WHIP over that span and 3.37 FIP. Now that he's healthy, he looks like a prime candidate to be the next Cole at a tick of the price tag.
Cole and Wheeler both are listed at 6-foot-4 and throw absolute gas. Wheeler averaged nearly 97 miles per hour on his fastball in 2019. According to data from Baseball Savant, Wheeler's fastball velocity is in the 94th percentile, his opponent exit velocity is in the 90th percentile and his hard-hit percentage is in 82nd percentile.
The most similar pitcher to Wheeler last season based on velocity and movement, was Cole, per Baseball Savant.
His past injury history could scare teams, but the last two seasons should be a clear indication of who Wheeler is and can become. This is an ace in the making who looks like he can get better and better. The one downfall is the Mets gave him the qualifying offer. San Francisco likely would lose a second-round draft pick if they signed Wheeler.
Numbers don't lie, though. It's clear he's well worth that.
What Wheeler does best is exactly what everyone is looking for. He's a pitcher with high velocity, the ability to rack up strikeouts and keeps the ball in the park. He won't break the bank and should be at the front of the rotation when the Giants are ready to contend again.
Timmy already came home. Now it's time for Zack Wheeler to do the same and become a Giant, once and for all.