More than two weeks into free agency, it’s not exactly clear who the Philadelphia Phillies have in mind as they attempt to upgrade their starting rotation.
There’s some evidence that World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg will wind up back with the Washington Nationals. And while Jayson Stark of The Athletic has said that the Phillies will “stay in the mix” on Gerrit Cole, it doesn’t appear they are currently expected to approach the eight-year/$256 million deal that the three-time All-Star is projected to get.
That’s led many to believe that free-agent righty Zack Wheeler may be the team’s top realistic target on the pitching market. But perhaps not.
Wednesday, Jon Morosi said on MLB Network that the Los Angeles Angels, San Diego Padres, Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins are the teams that have been connected most frequently to the 29-year-old righty. Morosi added that he believes that Wheeler will sign his contract “long before” Cole does, and potentially before Strasburg ultimately does. That timeline certainly would lead you to think his deal will be completed before the new year, if not sooner, which makes the Phillies a perplexing team not to be at least mentioned.
Wheeler, 29, went 11-8 with a 3.96 ERA, 3.48 FIP and 4.7 fWAR across 195.1 innings with the New York Mets in 2019. In five seasons with the Mets, Wheeler has a 3.77 ERA and 3.71 FIP. The most notable stretch of his career came in the second half of the 2018 season, when he went 9-1 with a 1.68 ERA. That stretch alone may be enough to convince a pitching-needy team that his best years are yet to come.
The Mets did issue a qualifying offer to Wheeler, so if the Phillies were to sign him, they would forfeit their second-highest pick in the 2020 MLB Draft and $500,000 in international signing bonus pool money. That would be on top of signing him to a lucrative deal, with MLB Trade Rumors projecting that he’ll sign a five-year/$100 million contract.
In an interview with Joe DeCamara and Jon Ritchie on SportsRadio 94 WIP earlier this month, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak did concede that signing top free agents hurts the team’s chances of building a stronger farm system because they lose draft picks. Perhaps that could diminish their interest in Wheeler, though Klentak also said at Joe Girardi’s introductory press conference that it’s time to win “right now,” which would require the Phillies adding multiple pitchers. Wheeler, Cole, Strasburg and Madison Bumgarner all received qualifying offers.
The Phillies could still improve their starting rotation by signing options like Hyun-jin Ryu and Cole Hamels, who didn’t receive qualifying offers. That said, Ryu has an injury history and Hamels is 36, so while they wouldn’t require giving up draft compensation and international signing bonus pool money, they would bring risk in other ways.
It’s possible that the Phillies will ultimately end up pursuing Wheeler more seriously. That they don’t appear to be one of the favorites to sign him right now, though, is noteworthy.
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