Zack Wheeler hopes to return from injury soon, but he's racing July 31 trade deadline

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 7:  Pitcher Zack Wheeler #45 of the New York Mets in action in an MLB baseball game against the Washington Nationals on April 7, 2019 at Citi Field in the Queens borough of New York City. Nationals won 12-9. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

MINNEAPOLIS – Zack Wheeler is aware of all the rumors. He knows he’s been linked to a handful of teams as a potential trade target this month.

“You hear about it all the time. Between TV, social media, (the media), Wheeler said Tuesday. “You’re going to hear about it and see certain teams and that stuff. My goal is to go out there every fifth day and grab the ball and pitch the best I can.”

Those rumors had intensified recently with the trade deadline just two weeks away, but Wheeler’s status as a top trade target have taken a hit with the righty landing on the injured list with a right shoulder impingement.

Suddenly, it’s not a lock that Wheeler will wind up with a contending team.

“I don’t want to set a timetable because you really never know how your body is going to react to it. Could be one start, two, three,” said Wheeler, who underwent an MRI on Monday that came back clean. “Obviously I want to be back as soon as possible and only want to miss one start. It is what it is and you got to deal with it and try to get back as soon as you can, we’re doing everything we possibly can. As long as you’re doing that, I think we’re on the right track.”

Wheeler had long appeared to be the most likely Met to be traded, but that was when he was healthy. Teams are now going to alter their offers, if not abandon pursuits, since he’s sidelined with a shoulder issue.

In the best-case scenario, Wheeler returns on July 23 against the Padres, makes another start on July 28 against the Pirates, and pitches with no issues. The Mets then have three days to find a deal for the free agent to be.

Any delay to that plan, though, could limit Wheeler to just one start or less, which hurts the Mets’ leverage.

The removal of the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline means the Mets only have limited time to make a deal or potentially risk losing him without receiving compensation.

The team could offer Wheeler the qualifying offer this offseason, but he would then be making three times his salary next year.

Barring an unforeseen significant spike in payroll, the Mets are not projected to have much money to spend despite having some sizable pitching needs.

“Honestly, sometimes you think about it, sometimes you don’t,” Wheeler said of the trade rumors. “It could be timing, but like I said I’m trying to get out there as soon as I can. Doesn’t affect if I pitch sooner or pitcher later. I’m trying to pitch every fifth day, that’s my job, and what I want to d. It’s just unfortunate it happened now.”

Wheeler said he had been dealing with the impingement since July 2, when it flared up during the later innings of his start against the Yankees. He described the impingement, which is a pinch in the shoulder, as “uncomfortable.”

The 29-year-old hoped the down time during the All-Star break would help, but his shoulder still felt a little cranky when he geared up what would’ve been his scheduled start Tuesday against the Twins.

He flew back to New York on Sunday to undergo testing.

“I’m just happy there’s nothing structural,” Wheeler said. “Deal with what I’ve got and be back in a short amount of time.”

Wheeler said he will soon start playing catch again, and emphasized that he does not expect he will miss much time. He recognized that he can’t rush himself back, even if the deadline, and the chance to pitch for a contender, is looming

“When I think about it, I think about missing him in our rotation right now when we’re trying to get back into this thing,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said before this two-game set against the Twins. “That’s what I think about.”