Rumors: Texas Rangers target Zack Wheeler could sign before Winter Meetings

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 15: Pitcher Zack Wheeler #45 of the New York Mets delivers a pitch against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning of a game at Citi Field on September 15, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 15: Pitcher Zack Wheeler #45 of the New York Mets delivers a pitch against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning of a game at Citi Field on September 15, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

The Texas Rangers are noted admirers of RHP Zack Wheeler and they could soon get a decision on where the touted starter will sign this offseason.

Zack Wheeler is one of the top starting pitchers available in free agency this offseason and in the opinion of some, trails only Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole. The Texas Rangers are one of a handful of teams with serious interest in the 29-year old as they look to build a formidable rotation capable of giving the Houston Astros competition in the AL West. Jon Heyman, an MLB Network Insider, tweeter out Tuesday morning that a deal or Zack Wheeler could be imminent with a possibility that Wheeler signs before the Winter Meetings set to begin next week.

This information follows up Ken Rosenthal of MLB Network reporting that Wheeler already has an offer on the table at the $100 million mark. Rosenthal also notes that Wheeler is likely to get a five-year contract whenever he does sign.

Wheeler, a former first round pick, has had his fair share of struggles since debuting in 2013, struggles that were often the cause of injuries. Between 2013 and 2017 Wheeler only made more than 20 starts once, in 2014 when he made 32 starts. He missed all of the 2015 and 2016 seasons with injury that included Tommy John surgery. Despite all these issues, there hasn’t much of a question about Wheeler’s ability. Even when he was dealing with injuries, he put up productive numbers when he was on the mound. Only once in his career has he had a season ERA over 4.00 and that came in 2017 when he was working back from injury.

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That immense potential mentioned though started to come to fruition over the past two seasons as Wheeler has emerged as a legitimate front of the rotation starter. Across the 2018 and 2019 seasons, Wheeler has made 60 starts and posted a combined 8.9 fWAR. His ERA of 3.31 in 2018 was the best of his career and his walk rate has trended down. Even with this marked improvement, many wonder if there’s another level to the right-hander’s game. Despite the injury history, he’s shown durability and despite being 29, he has a very young arm with under 750 big league innings thrown.

Where Does Texas Factor In?

The Rangers have been linked to Wheeler since the whole process of free agency began. A fairly young right-handed starter who some feel has the ability to become a true ace over the next couple of seasons and at the very least of his talent will be an elite number three starter could fit right in with where Texas wants to go. With Mike Minor and Lance Lynn already headlining the Rangers rotation and both coming off stellar years, Texas has an opportunity to build a formidable starter group.

They’ve already agreed to terms with RHP Kyle Gibson on a three-year deal per reports meaning some rotation work has already been done. But it seems Gibson’s signing won’t take them out of the free agency market. The Rangers are undoubtedly looking to add a third baseman this offseason with top tier guys like Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson headlining the options. Those guys both will net big salaries but nobody really knows how much the Rangers are willing to up the payroll this offseason. With Wheeler likely to get at least $20 million per year, if Texas is the mystery team with an offer on the table then that’s $30 million added to next season’s payroll without third base having been filled. That raises question marks to me about whether Wheeler could end up in Arlington.

How this could play out though could get interesting. By signing Kyle Gibson, Texas essentially is hoping for another Mike Minor, Lance Lynn payout bringing in a bounce back candidate on a team friendly deal. While he could be a solid third option for Minor or Lynn, he also could be a replacement if Texas looks to move one of Minor or Lynn. That could essentially make Gibson’s salary a wash with either of those players and put Texas right back where they started free agency. That could open up the money to chase a free agent like Wheeler for the rotation giving up a likely starter group of Wheeler, Lynn, Gibson, Palumbo and Allard if I had to guess. That top trio would be in the upper tier across baseball, not quite elite but well above the majority of the league. I find it hard to believe that Wheeler to Texas is a deal that happens but if it does, there could be a lot of other dominos that fall.

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