Just a couple hours after rumors began circulating of the Philadelphia Phillies being serious players for free agent pitcher Zack Wheeler, speculation became fact.
In an attempt to bolster a starting pitching rotation sorely in need of a makeover, the Phillies signed the right-handed hurler Wednesday to a five-year deal worth $118 million.
There are probably a lot of Phillies supporters out there questioning the price tag and Wheeler’s injury history, but ask yourself if you’d rather have him or someone like Nick Pivetta; then you won’t be skeptical about Matt Klentak’s first of (presumably) multiple big signings this winter.
In his last two seasons with the New York Mets (which makes this signing that much better), Wheeler went 23-15 in 377.2 innings, the 12th most innings recorded in Major League Baseball during that timeframe. In 2019, he made 31 starts, one shy of his career-high, with an ERA of 3.96. Over the course of the prior two seasons, Wheeler averaged the fourth-hardest fastball thrown at 96.3 MPH, second-hardest slider clocked at 91.1 MPH and third-highest changeup speed at 88.5 MPH.
The 29-year-old joins a rotation that desperately needs a lively arm. Ace Aaron Nola averaged a 92.9 MPH fastball in 2019, while Jake Arrieta‘s fastball hovered around 92.5 and Zach Eflin‘s reached 93.6. Pivetta was the hardest thrower for the Phillies in last season with a fastball that topped 94.6 MPH.
By way of contrast, Phillies starters threw 40 pitches that reached 97+ MPH over the last two campaigns. Wheeler, on the other hand, threw 1,111. Long story short? The new signing hasn’t even thrown a pitch as a Phillie and is already the liveliest arm on the staff.
Regarding Wheeler’s ability to stay healthy, there will always be skepticism. He underwent Tommy John surgery in March 2015 and missed all of 2015 and 2016. In 2017, Wheeler missed time due to right biceps tendinitis in June and July, and from that July to the end of the season he was sidelined with a stress reaction in his right arm. His injury history has thrown twists and turns into his career, but Phillies fans will be hopeful that Wheeler can remain off the injured list and reach his full potential in Philadelphia.
In a rotation solely consisting of right handers, Wheeler’s signing obviously improves things, but Klentak and owner John Middleton still need to scour the market for a lefty, perhaps Madison Bumgarner? Unlikely, but the fact remains that this team should be searching for a southpaw after losing out on a second Cole Hamels era to the Atlanta Braves.
Did the Phillies overpay for Wheeler? Probably. Will he help this rotation? Absolutely. Both can be right, and that’s OK.
Jason Kates is a staff writer for Bronx to Bushville.