3:37pm: The White Sox are “willing” to push beyond the five-year, $100MM mark in order to sign Wheeler, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports. Whether they’ve actually made such an offer isn’t clear.
11:57am: It seems the Wheeler auction could be building to a crescendo. It’s possible and “maybe even probable” that he’ll sign before the Winter Meetings open next week, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network (via Twitter).
9:35am: Free agent righty Zack Wheeler is going to break the $100MM barrier with his next contract, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription link). Per the report, Wheeler already has at least one offer in hand of at least $100MM.
MLBTR foresaw intense bidding for Wheeler entering the offseason, when we ranked him fourth in earning power among all free agents. It seems our prediction of five years and $100MM — aggressive at the time — will actually end up just on the light side. The question remains how far north of that figure Wheeler will roll.
Rosenthal lists the White Sox, Twins, Reds, Rangers and Blue Jays as teams with ongoing interest in Wheeler. That’s a non-exclusive list; quite a few other clubs have also been tied to the 29-year-old. The involvement of such organizations reflects the reason we were so bullish on Wheeler’s market entering the winter. Simply put, he checks a lot of boxes for a lot of teams.
It’ll cost draft compensation to sign Wheeler, but that’s not an overwhelming deterrent for a still-youthful player who possesses top-of-the-rotation stuff. Wheeler has been healthy for two seasons while maintaining a big heater and compelling peripherals. He threw 195 1/3 innings in 2019, which is quite a sum in this day and age. That’s a good sign for a pitcher who battled through health problems before a bounceback ’18 campaign. And it seems teams are taking the view that his 2019 ERA (3.96) doesn’t fully reflect his true talent level.
So how much is too much for a pitcher with Wheeler’s history of arm issues and less-than-perfect platform season? That’s what we may soon find out. But in thinking through his value, it’s worth recalling the broader market situation.
In terms of supply, Wheeler occupies an interesting position. He’s clearly not to the level of Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, but arguably possesses a much loftier ceiling — with a combination of premium stuff and relative youth — than any of the other available starters. Teams not interested in approaching or exceeding the $200MM level of spending have understandably zeroed in on Wheeler as a potential budget ace. And there’s no shortage of organizations with conceivable interest. Multiple big-spending contenders are chasing top arms along with the teams listed above.