New York Mets: Who Does Zack Wheeler Replace?

By matthewyaspan
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

With Zack Wheeler’s Super Two cutoff date fast approaching, the New York Mets will have no other choice but to call up the top prospect from Las Vegas. The team’s fans have a ravenous hunger for new talent as the batch of players they put out right now on a daily basis are continually underperforming.

The question is, who does Wheeler replace in the rotation? Matt Harvey isn’t going anywhere, and even if Jonathon Niese is out longer than expected due to his tendinitis, his injury only necessitates a spot starter, not someone to come up and make twenty starts like Wheeler is poised to do. While Shaun Marcum is due to leave after the 2013 season and is not in the team’s long term plans, the Mets spent a cool $4 million on having him start this year, and intend on getting every penny.

This leaves the Mets with the options of Dillon Gee and Jeremy Hefner. Neither pitcher seems to be in jeopardy of a demotion, but the presence of Wheeler would warrant either of these back end arms to be relegated to bullpen duties.

Early in the season, Hefner would have been the obvious choice. Hefner was originally slated to be a bullpen arm out of Spring Training before Johan Santana‘s career ended, and was supposed to be replaced by Wheeler at the first opportunity. His first couple appearances reaffirmed this notion, as he allowed seven homers in his first fourteen innings. His performance since then, however, has been one of the best out of any Mets players, including his last one-run outing against the Washington Nationals.

Hefner has managed to cut down his home runs by pitching more inside to left-handed batters, who were absolutely crushing him early in the year. His career numbers suggest that he could produce at the level that Mike Pelfrey did at a fraction of the price.

Gee’s struggles early in the year, in large part due to diminished velocity after his shoulder surgery, have made Hefner’s presence seem even more invaluable. If Wheeler were to come up last week, Gee likely would have been the one to lose his starting job, but a career-best start against the Yankees in which he showed improved command and velocity may be his life saver.

The Mets will likely wait to promote Wheeler in order for him to start in a favorable environment. Gee’s performance against the Nationals may be a large deciding factor in who stays and who goes in the Mets rotation.

One thing is clear, though: the era of Zack Wheeler is eminent, and someone will have to get out of his way.

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