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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Trading Zack Wheeler to Yankees makes sense  

New York Mets starting pitcher Zack Wheeler reacts

New York Mets starting pitcher Zack Wheeler reacts against the Philadelphia Phillies during the first inning of an MLB baseball game at Citi Field on Sunday, July 7, 2019. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

About midway through last season, I was talking to a member of the Cubs’ organization about Gleyber Torres, the star prospect they sent to the Bronx for what amounted to a three-month rental of Aroldis Chapman.

That trade was a critical factor in helping the Cubs end their 107-season championship drought in 2016, a franchise-changing event that yielded an incalculable windfall on the North Side.

But in acknowledging all that, the Cubs’ official couldn’t help mentioning how the organization was stunned by the still lingering fallout over sacrificing Torres. Only two years after delivering a championship that was three generations in the making, the fans were barking about Torres now becoming an All-Star for the Yankees.

The moral of the story? As we again entertain the concept of the Mets and Yankees doing business together at the trade deadline, it’s important to remember one thing: No deal is going to make everyone 100 percent happy. You just have to decide what the goal is, and how badly you want to achieve that goal.

For the Yankees, the endgame is clear. Brian Cashman’s deft series of moves, along with rapidly maturing youngsters, have enabled the Yankees to complete the first half with the AL’s best record (57-31) and solidify themselves as a World Series favorite — despite sending 22 players to the injured list.

Hal Steinbrenner also has invested more than $230 million in this year’s team, a remarkable bargain when you consider that Torres, Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Luke Voit and Domingo German account for a combined total of $3.1 million, just to pick out some of the biggest bang for the buck.

In other words, this is the perfect storm for the Yankees, the sweet spot where the free-agent imports, the clever trades and the homegrown talent all intersect, before life starts to get more complicated in the coming years. This is go time, and Cashman has to realize that as he surveys a seller’s market that should include the folks in Flushing.

Wheeler in pinstripes?

The most obvious target is the pending free agent Zack Wheeler, who has pitched better than his 4.69 ERA and 1.277 WHIP would suggest. Scouts rave about what can be overpowering stuff, and he’s averaged six innings-plus over his 19 starts. Wheeler also is relatively young, just turning 29, and is due only roughly $2.6 million for the remainder of this season.

Steinbrenner said last month that he’d be willing to go over the next luxury-tax threshold of $246 million — when the most severe penalties kick in — in order to fortify this year’s run at title No. 28. But it also doesn’t sound like his preference, so a less expensive yet solid option such as Wheeler is both attractive and would enable the Yankees to pursue more bullpen help as well.

“I’m not concerned about it, given the pitchers that are out there that we think we might have a chance at getting,” Steinbrenner said of the luxury-tax issue. “More important to me is what we would have to give up. That’s always my biggest concern. What am I losing? What future am I giving up?”

That’s where the Mets come in. Unlike many of their recent midseason deals, Wheeler is not a salary-dump situation. He’s one of the very few chips who can bring quality talent back, especially in this pitching-hungry climate.

So is Noah Syndergaard, but with another year of team control remaining, the Mets would rather pump up his value in the second half with an eye toward potentially moving him in the winter, as they discussed last December. We’ll consider Jacob deGrom off the table.

Mets-Yankees deal? Could be

The fact that the Mets and Yankees already talked over the winter about a Syndergaard swap suggests that a deal of this magnitude between the city rivals is more possible than ever. Last season, Cashman had no problem announcing he was in contact with the Mets about their rotation pieces — the GM has a good relationship with Mets special assistant Omar Minaya — so it’s not a stretch to say he’ll be doing that again.

But as Steinbrenner alluded to, what can the Mets expect to get back for two months (and presumably October) of Wheeler? The Yankees’ No. 4 prospect, Deivi Garcia, who started Sunday’s Futures Game, was promoted this week to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, which is playing at Syracuse — the Mets’ affiliate — through the weekend. Garcia, 20, has a fastball in the 96-97-mph range, and added a more polished slider this season, helping him amass 114 strikeouts in 68 2/3 innings, split between Class A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.

If the Yankees truly are desperate for another experienced starter, Garcia would figure to be in those trade discussions, as well as Clint Frazier. The Blue Jays’ Marcus Stroman has another year left on his contract, and again talked about his big-stage readiness this week at the All-Star Game. The Giants’ Madison Bumgarner, a pending free agent, has the Yankees on his no-trade list, so wresting him from the Bay Area could be a thorny procedure.

What could nudge Cashman toward Wheeler is the reported interest from the Red Sox, among many other clubs. Plus, Wheeler already is comfortable pitching in New York, something that the Yankees’ GM has to be more sensitive to after the Sonny Gray failure. Stick Wheeler on a playoff-bound team, with a much better defense behind him, and you could see a repeat of last season’s stellar second half (9-1, 1.68 ERA, 0.813 WHIP).

Two more months of Wheeler really don’t have any value to the 40-50 Mets, and it’s very possible that the title-obsessed Yankees will offer the most appealing package for him. Brodie Van Wagenen would be crazy to dismiss it on the basis of geography. And if Wheeler does have a desire to return to the Mets, they could always sign him back in free agency, just as the Yankees did with Chapman after the Torres deal (though I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one).

The Mets don’t have a World Series on the line, but the stakes feel huge anyway. They should think of the Yankees as a potential partner this month, rather than an adversary.

The Mets and Yankees have collaborated on 15 trades, most of the minor variety. Here they are:

April 10, 2018: Yankees trade OF Kendall Coleman to Mets for INF/OF L.J. Mazzilli

Dec. 19, 2014: Yankees purchase RHP Gonzalez Germen from Mets.

Dec. 3, 2004: Mets trade LHP Mike Stanton to Yankees for LHP Felix Heredia.

July 16, 2003: Yankees trade RHPs Ryan Bicondoa, Jason Anderson and Anderson Garcia to Mets for RHP Armando Benitez.

Dec. 7, 2001: Yankees trade OF David Justice to Mets for 3B Robin Ventura

Sept. 17, 1993: Yankees trade RHP Kenny Greer to Mets for LHP Frank Tanana.

June 9, 1992: Mets trade RHP Tim Burke to Yankees for LHP Lee Guetterman.

July 10, 1989: Mets trade OF Marcus Lawton to Yankees for RHP Scott Nielsen.

Dec. 11, 1987: Yankees trade LHP Steve Frey, C/OF Phil Lombardi and OF Darren Reed to Mets for LHP Victor Garcia and SS Rafael Santana

April 18, 1983: Yankees trade 3B Tucker Ashford to Mets for a player to be named and LHP Steve Ray. Mets sent INF Felix Perdomo to Yankees to complete the trade.

April 1, 1980: Yankees purchase 1B Marshall Brant from Mets.

Dec. 9, 1977: Yankees trade INF Sergio Ferrer to Mets for 3B Roy Staiger.

July, 1972: As part of a three-team trade, Yankees send RHP Tommie Sheppard to Montreal Expos. Expos send 1B Dave McDonald to Mets.

June 28, 1967: Mets purchase RHP Hal Reniff from Yankees.

June 15, 1966: Mets purchase RHP Bob Friend from Yankees.

Source: MLB.com

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