Why Zack Wheeler could be perfect fit for Giants in MLB free agency


Why Zack Wheeler could be perfect fit for Giants in MLB free agency

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? 

The Giants. 

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. 

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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.

Why Farhan Zaidi is shrugging off Giants', Gabe Kapler's early hiccups

Why Farhan Zaidi is shrugging off Giants', Gabe Kapler's early hiccups

The Giants have dropped five of their last six games after losing the series opener to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night. They've committed several more errors than games played, and are the only team in the league without a quality start to this point.

Often times, it hasn't been pretty. Though San Francisco had been a pleasant surprise record-wise prior to the current road trip, the reality of the situation is that the Giants don't have a roster that you would confuse with the typical contender.

Gabe Kapler has had some slip-ups, but as president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi explained to 95.7 The Game's "Damon, Ratto and Kolsky" on Wednesday, he isn't concerned about his manager.

"He has a challenging job right now," Zaidi said, "because ... this is a lineup, a roster, a pitching staff that sort of needs to be managed pretty actively. We don't have five workhorses in the rotation who are going to throw seven innings where you just hand the ball to your setup man and your closer. He's obviously having to mix and match a lot on the pitching side, on the position player side we're trying to use the entire roster. We're platooning some, that means pinch-hitting some. 

"And when you're a manager and you have to make that many moves -- as many moves as our roster kind of behooves right now -- every time you make a move ... you're making a lot of 55/45, 60/40 bets that get scrutinized and if they don't work out, the onus kind of falls on you. ... But again, I look at some of our best wins this season and they've come from a lot of the decisions that he has made. So, we think this is the way to manage our roster that gives us the best chance to be competitive and win games, and I appreciate that he's willing to pull the trigger and be aggressive with a lot of these moves."

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Kapler's self-admitted most embarrassing mistake to date occurred in last week's extra-innings loss to the San Diego Padres in which he forgot about the new rule requiring pitchers to face a batter following a mound visit. He owned up to it immediately following the loss and shouldered the blame, which Zaidi found to be plenty satisfactory.

"What happened with going out to try to get Tyler Rogers in that extra-innings game last week," Zaidi continued, "I think he owned up to it, it was just a mental screw-up. He has been around the game a long time, had a long career and he just owned it. It was a tough inning, there was a lot of things going on. I'm sure there was a lot of stuff going on in the dugout. I just wrote that off as kind of a mental screw-up, which he owned up to and we turn the page."

[RELATED: Stat, odd moment show how poorly Samardzija has started]

Given the state of the Giants' roster and the general unprecedented gameplay in this shortened season, it's easy to see why Zaidi is willing to cut Kapler some slack and give him the benefit of the doubt. 

Kapler hasn't exactly been dealt a winning hand, and it would be a significant surprise if he turned it into one right away.

Jeff Samardzija's rough start to season displayed by stat, odd moment

Jeff Samardzija's rough start to season displayed by stat, odd moment

There's a stunning stat from Jeff Samardzija's first three starts that shows how much he's struggling right now, but perhaps in this case all you need is an exchange from the Giants' loss Friday night. 

When Samardzija grazed Dodgers utility man Kiké Hernandez to load the bases in the fifth inning, Hernandez insisted over and over again to the home plate umpire that he had not been hit by the pitch. It was a strange sight, and the Giants even challenged the call -- with no luck -- to try to send Hernandez back to the box, but it seems that it's not a good sign that he wanted to be there in the first place. 

The Dodgers were remarkably comfortable against Samardzija, who is coming off a solid year but has had a nightmare start to 2020. In a 7-2 win over the Giants, they were quiet the first time through the order, then busted out for three homers the second time through. 

Samardzija walked off the mound in the fifth with the bases loaded. For the third time in three starts, he was charged with five earned runs. 

"I think he had a little bit of a lack of fastball command," manager Gabe Kapler said. "This is a very difficult lineup to get through even if you're locating your pitches."

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

The Dodgers proved that with the three homers, which brings us to the stunning stat. In three starts, totaling just 13 2/3 innings, Samardzija has allowed six homers but struck out just five batters. Right now, he doesn't have the stuff or command to put hitters away. 

"Too many times we're getting these 0-2, 1-2 counts and battling for too long," he said. "We need to make sure that when we're getting them in the hole, we're finishing them. You give these big league hitters too many opportunities, they're going to take advantage of it. We've got to get them up and set them down as fast as possible."

Samardzija actually looked marginally better in the first three innings, getting six pop-ups and shallow fly balls. But those turned to homers the second time through, dropping the Giants into too large a deficit. The loss was their fifth in six games and put them five games behind the Rockies and 4 1/2 behind the loaded Dodgers after a little over two weeks of action. 

It won't get any better without a sharp turn from the starting pitchers, and the Giants don't have an obvious solution right now if Samardzija keeps struggling. Drew Smyly will be reevaluated when the road trip ends next Wednesday. Swingman Tyler Anderson already is needed for Smyly's spot. 

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The Giants will hope the stuff improves and the command returns for Samardzija, at least enough to make hitters look less comfortable than Hernandez did. 

"He didn't think it hit him," Samardzija said. "I told him it must have hit his jersey or something. They're all gamers over there, they all want to play. I respect those guys a lot. He's just being honest. It's a good quality."