Yankees-Mets trade embargo is why it's unlikely Zack Wheeler heads to the Bronx

NEW YORK — Running away with the AL East and heading into what they hope will be a deep playoff run this October, the New York Yankees desperately need to add a starting pitcher by the July 31 trade deadline.

Meanwhile, a scant eight miles across town, the New York Mets, closer to last place than first in the NL East and headed for their eighth sub-.500 season in the last 10, are eagerly seeking to unload a starting pitcher, and a good one at that.

And yet, it is less likely that the Mets would trade Zack Wheeler to the Yankees than it is that the two teams will meet in the 2019 World Series, the odds of which some books set at 225-to-1.

Throughout their 57-year history of mostly uneasy co-existence, the Yankees and Mets have cooperated on a trade precisely 15 times, beginning with the sale of 35-year-old right-handed pitcher Bob Friend from the Yankees to the Mets in 1966. Friend, a 16-year veteran, went 5-8 in 22 starts for the Mets and retired at the end of the season.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JULY 07:  Zack Wheeler #45 of the New York Mets pitches against the Philadelphia Phillies during their game at Citi Field on July 07, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Zack Wheeler is likely to be traded by the Mets next week, but not to their crosstown rivals, the Yankees. (Getty Images)

In the interim, you could count the number of impactful deals between the intercity rivals on Three-Finger Brown’s hand. In 2001, the Yankees swapped David Justice for Robin Ventura. In 2003, the Mets shipped Armando Benitez to the Bronx for three Yankee “prospects,’’ none of whom amounted to much. And in 2004, they exchanged relievers: Mike Stanton of the Yankees going to Flushing in exchange for Felix Heredia.

Although Wheeler is almost certain not to be a Met next Thursday, it is just as certain he will not be included in the fourth “major’’ Yankees-Mets trade. That is, if there ever is one.

“We’d be crazy to put ourselves in the position of having them win with one of our guys,’’ a member of the Mets front office told Yahoo Sports this week when asked about the possibility of Wheeler going to the Yankees.

The source — who like everyone contacted for this story requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the relationship between the two clubs — went on to say that if the Mets received two comparable offers and one of them came from the Yankees, the Mets would reflexively reject the Yankees and accept the other offer.

“The Yankees would have to offer more than any other team for us to deal with them,’’ the source said.

It amounts to a “Yankee Premium’’ imposed because of the lingering resentments and hostilities between the two clubs. According to members of both organizations, most of that hostility flows from Flushing toward the Bronx these days, but it was not always thus.

“When Fred [Wilpon] and Nelson Doubleday were running the Mets, I think George was the over-paranoid one,’’ said a member of the Yankees hierarchy. “He always wanted to fight them for the back page. But later on, Fred and George became good friends and a lot of that went away.’’

But with Fred’s son, Jeff, now in charge of the Mets operations as their COO, relations have cooled back to the Cold War proportions of the '70s and '80s.

Most recently, the Yankees twice thought they had traded for outfielder Jay Bruce from the Mets in 2017, only to have then-GM Sandy Alderson pull the deal back at the last minute after talking to Mets ownership.

That same year, when a deal that would have sent Neil Walker to the Yankees fell through due to medical issues, there was finger-pointing in both directions.

New Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen has said he would be open to dealing with the Yankees, but considering the reception of the Mets toward a possible Wheeler-to-the-Bronx deal, that seems highly unlikely.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,’’ said a Yankees official. “There’s more than enough room for two teams in this town.’’

Said another member of the Yankees front office: “It’s their issue. It’s not our issue.’’

Predictably enough, the resentment between the two clubs seems to vary with whichever team is prospering, both in the standings and in the court of public opinion in the city’s competing tabloids and talk-radio stations.

In the period spanning the mid-'80s to the mid-'90s, when the Mets were averaging 95 wins a year and won their last World Series (1986) and the Yankees were mired in a 13-year playoff drought, it was the Yankees who seemed loath to do business with the Mets.

Tensions seem to have cooled between 1995 and 2007, when the Yankees went on their run of 13 consecutive playoff appearances, six World Series appearances and four world championships, one of which came at the expense of the Mets in 2000. It was during that period that the two teams made their only significant deals, and only one of them had a clear winner — while Justice was traded by the Mets to the Oakland Athletics without ever playing a game for the Mets, Ventura hit 27 home runs in the first of his two seasons as a Yankee.

In the ensuing 15 years, the Yankees and Mets have engaged in two insignificant transactions: In 2014, the Yankees bought Gonzalez Germen, a right-handed reliever who never appeared in a game for them, from the Mets, and last year they traded Kendall Coleman, a minor-league outfielder, to the Mets for L.J. Mazzilli, a Triple-A utilityman whose dad, Lee, famously wore a skin-tight uniform for both New York clubs in the '70s and '80s, with stops in between.

According to sources on both sides of town, relationships soured between the clubs around the time both the Yankees and Mets were planning to replace their aging ballparks in the mid-2000s. A source in the Yankees front office said Fred Wilpon asked the Yankees to help guide Jeff through the process, an association that went wrong for reasons that are unclear.

Relations have not been helped by the fact that although the Mets were the most recent New York team to reach the World Series — they lost in five games to the Kansas City Royals in 2015 — the Yankees have been by far the more successful franchise. Since 2004, the Mets have made the playoffs three times and won their division twice; the Yankees have made the postseason 11 out of those 15 seasons and won their division six times. While the Mets have had nine sub-.500 seasons in that span, the Yankees have not had a losing season since 1992.

If there is one consolation for the Mets, it is that if the Yankees do not win the World Series this year, it will be 10 seasons since they have, their longest championship-less drought since the 17-year stretch between 1978 and 1996.

“That’s their measure of success,’’ one Yankee official said, snidely.

“I wouldn’t say there’s hostility between the teams,’’ said a member of the Mets organization. “Let’s say there’s extra caution when it comes to dealing with the Yankees, for a lot of reasons.’’

Some of the Mets caution towards the Yankees stems from Yankees GM Brian Cashman’s ability to build up some of his prospects, only to spin them off for more valuable pieces.

“The Yankees are very good at overhyping guys like Jesus Montero and Manny Banuelos and Hensley Meulens and Rob Refsnyder,’’ the Mets source said. “They’ve done that very well over the years.’’

The Yankees eventually traded Montero, a highly touted catcher, to Seattle for Michael Pineda, and Banuelos, a talented but oft-injured pitcher, for David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve. Meulens was eventually released and Refsnyder, at one point considered a star in waiting, was traded to Toronto for Ryan McBroom, who has yet to make it to the majors.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 27:   (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT)   Clint Frazier #77 of the New York Yankees in action against the San Diego Padres at Yankee Stadium on May 27, 2019 in New York City.  The Yankees defeated the Padres 5-2.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
The Yankees are also shopping Clint Frazier, their offensively talented but defensively challenged outfielder currently in Triple-A. (Getty Images)

The Yankees, too, have had reason to be cautious about dealing with the Mets; in 2011, they signed Pedro Feliciano, who had been an effective left-handed reliever for the Mets for the previous eight seasons, to a two-year deal worth $8 million. But Feliciano hurt his arm in his first spring training with the Yankees and never threw a pitch for them, prompting the Yankees to accuse the Mets of having overworked Feliciano and selling them damaged goods.

The Mets rightly responded, “Caveat emptor,’’ or words to that effect. Feliciano wound up returning to the Mets for the 2013 season.

Currently, the Yankees are publicly dangling Deivi Garcia, a 5-foot-9, 160-pound right-hander, as possible trade bait for a big-league ready starter.

A Mets talent evaluator who has scouted Garcia said, “He’s good, very good,’’ but isn’t about to fall for the Yankees hype machine.

“I got two eyes and I got a mind, so I don’t give a s--- what [Cashman] says,’’ the evaluator said. “I know what I’m looking at.’’

The Yankees are also shopping Clint Frazier, their offensively talented but defensively challenged outfielder currently in Triple-A, and Miguel Andújar, their injured third baseman who finished second in AL Rookie of the Year voting last year, for possible inclusion in a deal for either Wheeler or Noah Syndergaard, who the Mets are also listening to offers on.

“Frazier’s just OK,’’ the Mets source said. “And Andújar’s got issues defensively. It would have to be more than that for any of our guys.’’

What he didn’t say didn’t need to be said. If either Wheeler or Syndergaard becomes a Yankee, it will be through free agency, not a trade.

Despite a truce here and there, the Yankee-Mets trade embargo is now nearly six decades old, and it’s not about to end any time soon.

Yahoo Sports’ Matt Ehalt and Mike Mazzeo contributed reporting to this story.

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