The Phillies made their first notable move of the offseason by addressing needs in their starting rotation. The Phillies and 29-year old right-hander Zack Wheeler have reportedly agreed to a five-year, $118-million deal according to ESPN and NBC Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury. The move came on the same day that another potential Phillies target – lefty Cole Hamels – signed a deal with the Atlanta Braves that will pay him $18-million for the 2020 season.
Confirming @MarcCarig Phillies get Zack Wheeler. Five years just under 120mill— Jim Salisbury (@JSalisburyNBCS) December 4, 2019
Signing Wheeler gives the Phillies one of the better starting pitchers available through free agency. His signing means that the Phillies will forfeit their second-round draft pick and lose $500-thousand in international slot money since Wheeler received a qualifying offer from the Mets, but rejected it.
Wheeler was being courted by various teams, but in recent days reports had the Phillies moving toward the top of the list. Early in his career, Wheeler was projected to become one of the top pitchers in the game, but he was detoured by Tommy John surgery in 2015. After missing two seasons, Wheeler struggled in 2017, pitching to a 5.21 ERA in 17 starts for the Mets. Over the past two seasons though, he’s returned to form to go 23-25, 3.65 in 60 starts for the Mets. The right-hander made 31 starts for the Mets in 2019, just one off his career-high of 32 set back in 2014. He also pitched a career-high 195 1/3 innings for New York.
The Phillies will likely slot Wheeler behind Aaron Nola in the starting rotation, with Jake Arrieta and Zach Eflin behind the two, at least for now. The Phillies also have pitchers Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez among others who will be fighting for spots in the rotation. It’s also not out of the question that the Phillies will fill another rotation spot either through free agency or a trade.
Hamels, who turns 36 later this month, won 114 games for the Phillies over 10 seasons prior to being dealt to the Texas Rangers during the 2015 season. The Rangers dealt Hamels to the Cubs just prior to the trade deadline in 2018. Over 14 MLB seasons, Hamels has a career mark of 163-121, 3.42. In 2019, Hamels was 7-7 with a 3.81 ERA with the Cubs, making 27 starts.
Immediately after the season, Hamels had expressed an interest in returning to the Phillies and the team was thought to have an interest in a reunion with the left-hander on a short-term deal. The move would have given the Phillies a steady left-hander in their rotation, something they lack.
Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg are considered to be the top two pitchers available through free agency, with Wheeler ranking just behind them, leading the second tier of pitchers. Cole and Strasburg are unsigned, although it has long been rumored that Strasburg will re-sign with the Nationals where he has pitched his entire career.