On Wednesday, the Phillies signed right-hander Zack Wheeler to a five-year $118 million deal. Wheeler, 29, is coming off a year where he pitched to a 3.96 earned run average (ERA) in 195.1 innings pitched with the division rival New York Mets.
While Wheeler is no Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg, but he is the next tier down. The starting pitching market has been set early this offseason by a handful of players getting more than they were thought to be worth,
- Drew Pomeranz – four years $34 million with the San Diego Padres.
- Kyle Gibson – three years $30 million with the Texas Rangers.
- Cole Hamels – one year $18 million with the Atlanta Braves.
To the naked eye, giving Zack Wheeler $118 million for five years seems like a massive overpay, especially in comparison to the deals listed above. I am here to remind you that the Phillies are paying Zack Wheeler for what he can become, not what he has been in the past.
While Wheeler has pitched to an ERA of 3.77 in his five seasons in the majors, he has started to come into his own in the second half of the last two years.
2018 1st half – 4.44 ERA
2018 2nd half – 1.68 ERA
2019 1st half – 4.69 ERA
2019 2nd half – 2.83 ERA
If Wheeler could put together his second half statistics for a whole year or even close to a whole year he would perhaps leap Aaron Nola as the ace of this starting rotation.
The Phillies are showing a tremendous amount of confidence in their newly hired Pitching Coach Bryan Price to help bring out this untapped potential in Wheeler.
But what if Zack Wheeler doesn’t find the success of his previous two second halves over his time with the Phillies? That’s okay.
There is a place for a starting pitcher of Wheeler’s capability in any major league rotation, in which case this contract would be an overpay, but again, that’s okay.
The Phillies have developed two legitimate starting pitchers in the past 10-15 years. Aaron Nola and 2008 World Series MVP, Cole Hamels.
Their inability to develop major league caliber starting pitching was going to cost them eventually, and this is where they will pay for it.
The Phillies have backed themselves into a corner to sign high profile starters in the free agent market.
If over paying a pitcher with Zack Wheeler’s talent and potential is the price the Phillies have to pay for not hitting on their draft picks, I’ll take my chances. Who knows, we could look back on this deal as an absolute steal for the Phillies front office.
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