Save for each having an individual media session via Zoom since the conclusion of the 2020 season, Philadelphia Phillies managing partner John Middleton and president Andy MacPhail have been relatively quiet this winter.
That changed Sunday morning.
With the MLB Winter Meetings set to commence, ESPN‘s Buster Olney reported, rather shockingly, that the Phillies were willing to listen to offers for right-hander Zack Wheeler, as they attempted to offset the losses they’ve sustained because of COVID-19.
The report quickly set Twitter ablaze, and elicited a strong response from the two most powerful people in the organization.
Middleton and MacPhail both spoke to Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia, and denied Olney’s report. Middleton simply said “there’s zero truth to this,” with MacPhail saying that “there’s no validity to it,” and adding that the 30-year-old “is very much in our plans going forward.”
The Phillies inked Wheeler to a five-year/$118 million in free agency last offseason, and when you consider how much that Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg ultimately signed for, the deal looks fairly team friendly. In his first season with the Phillies, Wheeler went 4-2 with a 2.92 ERA and 3.22 FIP in 11 starts. FanGraphs says that Wheeler was the ninth-best pitcher in the National League this season, making him a very strong No. 2 option in Joe Girardi’s rotation behind Aaron Nola.
Frankly, there isn’t a baseball reason for trading Wheeler. Even if such a trade was made to free up money to re-sign J.T. Realmuto, you’d arguably rather have a frontline pitcher entering his age-31 season than an elite catcher entering his age-30 season. Anyway, if Wheeler was moved in a cost-cutting effort, it likely would be to make up for the $145 million that Rob Maadi of The Associated Press reported that the team lost in 2020, not to re-allocate that money to another player.
In any event, these quotes from Middleton and MacPhail would make it nearly impossible to trade Wheeler, if it wasn’t already. The normal caveats exist – if the Phillies were offered the ability to swap Wheeler for Mike Trout or Juan Soto, of course they should change their tune. But these are fairly strong statements that make you believe that Wheeler will return for a second season with the Phillies.
Still, Olney is one of the most accomplished insiders in the history of the sport, so the idea that he cited multiple incorrect sources in his report, well, it seems unlikely. But the public reaction to his report may have been enough to keep the Phillies from considering such a possibility, if they had been.
Simply because the Phillies don’t move forward with as drastic of a cost-cutting measure as moving Wheeler doesn’t mean they won’t trim their payroll this offseason.
Robert Murray of FanSided and Jon Heyman of RADIO.COM Sports reported this past week that Jean Segura’s name is being bandied about on the trade market. The natural inclination of some was to believe that the Phillies were open to moving Segura – still owed $29.5 million – to clear money to re-sign Didi Gregorius. While Gregorius is the superior player, Segura’s versatility was an integral part of the team in 2020. If the Phillies hope to compete in a crowded National League East in 2021, their best path forward would be to keep Segura as an option to play second and third base, and re-sign Gregorius to play shortstop.
In addition to re-signing Gregorius, the Phillies would have to re-sign Realmuto and add an accomplished reliever, such as Liam Hendriks or Brad Hand, to really feel like they had a legitimate chance to unseat the Atlanta Braves in the division. Right now, such a scenario unfolding feels about as likely as the Eagles making the playoffs.
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