Phillies Nuggets with Tim Kelly

With pregnant wife, Zack Wheeler faces dilemma on joining Phillies


Tuesday evening, we learned that Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Player’s Association plan to move forward with a 60-game 2020 season. Teams will report to the second round of spring training on July 1, with the expectation that the season will start on either July 23 or July 24.

All isn’t back to normal, though. Far from it, really.

Zack Wheeler is entering his first season with the Phillies. (Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)

Earlier in the day, the Phillies confirmed that three more employees in the organization tested positive for COVID-19, one of whom was a player that wasn’t at the team’s facility in Clearwater, where there had been eight cases of the virus confirmed previously.

As part of the health protocols reached between MLB and MLBPA Tuesday evening, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported that players who live with someone that falls into the category of “high-risk” are able to opt-out of playing in the 2020 season. Even if they opt out, they would still accumulate a year of service time and be paid their pro-rated salary over 60 games. The most relevant group of “high-risk” individuals are pregnant spouses.

Earlier this week, Bryce Harper and his wife, Kayla, announced they are expecting their second child, this one a girl, in December. Despite that, Harper, who is entering his second season with the Phillies, doesn’t seem to be considering opting out of the season:

That said, Harper isn’t the only Phillie with a pregnant spouse. Righty Zack Wheeler – who the Phillies signed to a five-year/$118 million deal this past offseason – is expecting his first child with his wife in July.

When the idea of players quarantining in one or two cities for the 2020 season was being discussed, Wheeler publicly objected, saying that he had no intention of missing the birth of his first child. It’s hard to know how he’ll feel about this scenario – especially given that the Phillies already have had one of the most notable COVID-19 outbreaks across the sporting world.

Due dates, of course, are an estimate. Wheeler’s first child could come a little earlier or a little after his wife’s due date. But if the child is born at some point in July, it’s possible that Wheeler could opt-out of part of the season to protect his wife in the late stages of her pregnancy. He could then join the Phillies after the couple welcomes their first child.

Given that the regular season won’t start until late July, it’s entirely possible that Wheeler could stay away from the team until the birth of his child, but still return before the regular season begins. If Wheeler doesn’t report on July 1, though, it’s fair to wonder if he’ll have enough time to ramp up before the regular season begins. If he stays away from the team until his child is born, he might not be ready to pitch in the second game of the season, when Joe Girardi presumably would like to have him make his first start in red pinstripes.

Wheeler, 30, posted an 8.9 fWAR over his final two seasons with the New York Mets, the ninth-highest mark among starting pitchers. The Phillies signed him hoping to form a one-two punch at the top of the starting rotation with Aaron Nola. It would be more than understandable if Wheeler has reservations about exposing his wife to COVID-19. Certainly, though, the Phillies are a better team with him in the fold than without.

The Phillies will play 40 games against National League East opponents, and their other 20 against American League East opponents, per MLB Network‘s Jon Heyman. With Wheeler in the fold for all 60 games, it’s going to be a tall task to be successful while navigating that schedule. If Wheeler misses part of the Phillies season, it would make the task that much more difficult.

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