New York Mets, Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay looks set to swoop in and get Zack Wheeler

With other contenders sure to look other ways, the Tampa Bay Rays seem to be ramping up their interest in Zack Wheeler.

It seems the New York Mets can’t even get being a trade deadline seller quite right, with starting pitcher and top target for contenders Zack Wheeler landing on the IL Monday due to right shoulder fatigue. Tuesday brought a bit of good news though, as Tim Healey of Newsday reported Wheeler has no structural damage in his throwing shoulder.

Assuming Wheeler returns as soon as his 10-day IL stint (retroactive to July 12) is up, he could squeeze in two starts before the July 31 trade deadline. Any delay in that timetable has a chance to keep him out through the end of the month, and there’s no August waiver period to make trades this year.

So any contending team looking for a starting pitcher is surely now casting their eyes away from Wheeler. But according to one report, there’s one contender who seems to be just entering the mix for the Mets’ right-hander.

The Rays enter Tuesday with the best ERA in baseball (3.31), with a 2.94 starter’s ERA (also No. 1 in MLB) and a 3.67 bullpen ERA (second-best in MLB). So pitching isn’t really a desperate need, as they sit five games back of the New York Yankees in the AL East and hold the top Wild Card spot.

Even without Tyler Glasnow (forearm) since the beginning of May (and perhaps for remainder of the season at this point), Charlie Morton, Blake Snell, Yonny Chirinos and top prospect Brendan McKay lately has given Tampa Bay a nice run of traditional starts to go with their effective use of the opener strategy. So in theory, they could acquire Wheeler before the deadline and wait into August for him to pitch if that’s what it takes.

Wheeler is in the final year of his contract, which isn’t ideal for the Rays. But they can certainly take on what’s left of his $5.975 million salary for this season, and set aside the rental aspect he brings.

Wheeler’s 4.69 ERA so far this season is decidedly below average, and 13.7 percent of his fly balls leaving the yard to this point hasn’t helped. Having a bad Mets’ defense behind him is reflected in his deeper peripherals, with a 9.8 K/9, a 2.6 BB/9, a 3.66 FIP, 3.85 xFIP, 2.6 fWAR and 4.00 SIERA. His average fastball velocity is just shy of 97 mph, with three representative off-speed pitches (curveball, slider, change).

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The cost to acquire Wheeler definitely just went down, even though his shoulder issue might not be all that severe. That puts the Rays in line to get him a little easier, and they may seize the opportunity to buy low while everyone else gets scared off.

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