During the 2019 trade deadline, New York Mets starter Zach Wheeler was available in trades, with the rumored ask being one of the St. Louis Cardinals' young outfielders, Tyler O'Neill or Harrison Bader. Since Wheeler was going to be a rental for whoever acquired him, the club did not feel comfortable trading any of their controllable outfielders, nor their top prospects Dylan Carlson or Nolan Gorman, for Wheeler.
It likely would have been O'Neill or Bader plus some low-level prospects, but looking back on that deal, it would have been a steal for the Cardinals, especially if they decided to resign him that off-season. After rebounding in the second half of 2019, Wheeler has gone on to go 30-19 with a 2.82 ERA in 437.1 innings for the Philadelphia Phillies after signing a very affordable 5-year, $118 million deal.
Not only would Wheeler's presence most likely flip the 2022 Wild Card Series between the Cardinals and Phillies, but it also would have given St. Louis stability at the top of their rotation for 2023. Wheeler finished 2nd in Cy Young voting in 2021 and was basically the same guy again in 2022, making him one of the top pitchers in today's game.
The Cardinals had a ton of uncertainty facing their 2020 outfield with the impending free agency of Marcell Ozuna, so they were understandably hesitant to give up more outfielders. If they had traded O'Neill, or in my preference, Bader, maybe they would have held onto Randy Arozarena or Adolis Garcia. Not only do the Cardinals get an ace for their rotation, but now they probably retain a very high-level outfielder for their club.
Maybe St. Louis will look to swoop up Wheeler's teammate Aaron Nola in free agency next off-season, but I think we all wish that Wheeler was starting for the Cardinals in 2023.