Zack Wheeler has made it quite clear that he wants to remain with the Mets. It is as important to the righthander as his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery, which will keep him sidelined until the middle of summer.
In terms of a possible return date, “I said from the beginning of June or July,’’ Wheeler recently said from Port St. Lucie, Florida, where he is undergoing rehabilitation. “That’s still the timetable for me. There’s this process; you never know if you’re going to have setbacks. They could be late, could be earlier. You never know. I’m not really trying to set a timetable.’’
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Wheeler was 18-17 with a 3.50 ERA in 49 career starts before undergoing surgery last March. His contract status is club- friendly. He is not yet arbitration-eligible, and free agency is out of the picture until 2020. That makes him a bargain for the Mets — or another team.
Wheeler, 25, yearns to be part of what could be the best starting rotation in the big leagues. And certainly the Mets have to be intrigued about the prospect of adding a healthy Wheeler to the mix of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz. It could be a Cy-5 combination.
While the first four pitchers are virtually assured of remaining at least through 2016, Wheeler has been given no such guarantee. The signing of Bartolo Colon to a one-year deal keeps the fifth spot warm for Wheeler and retains an established starter if Wheeler is traded.
“You never know. Something could happen,’’ Wheeler said. “I was traded [to the Mets on July 28, 2011, when he was a Giants minor-leaguer], so you never know. You just try to keep your hopes up, keep pushing through, do what you’ve got to do to get better.’’
Wheeler and Wilmer Flores nearly were traded to Milwaukee for Carlos Gomez in July until the Mets decided not to make the deal, reportedly over Gomez’s medical records. Wheeler’s name also surfaced in talks with the Reds about Jay Bruce. Wheeler later called Sandy Alderson and expressed his desire to stay a Met.
“I thought maybe I should call and say, ‘Hey, I really want to be part of the organization,’ ’’ he said. “I was here at the beginning of the rebuilding process and I want to see it through. I want to be part of the success because I know it’s coming, I know what we’re capable of and I just wanted to stay here and have fun. I love the city, I love the fans, I love playing at Citi Field.’’
Wheeler said he never took it as a compliment that another team wanted him. “Not really. Honestly, I really don’t look at it that way,’’ he said. “At least I don’t.’’
There is no indication that Wheeler is involved in any current trade discussions. The Mets appear to be focusing on his return.
“Zack is progressing very well,’’ Alderson said in an emailed statement. “We expect him to be ready sometime midseason. His call demonstrated a strong desire to stay with the Mets. He is loyal to his teammates and believes in the direction of the team. This says a lot about Zack and about the Mets.”
Wheeler said the physical side of his rehabilitation is going well. After his surgery last March, he did have to adjust to a summer without playing.
“You have the surgery, that’s hard enough as it is,’’ he said, “and then you got to spend all summer down here not playing baseball. It’s a different part of it. I enjoyed watching for once. I don’t know if it necessarily grounds you, but it makes you realize, hey, be grateful for what you have.’’