The Phillies’ “No. 1 priority” for the remainder of the offseason “is signing ace Zack Wheeler to a contract extension,” MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki writes. Wheeler is set to be a free agent next winter, as he is entering the final season of his five-year, $118MM contract.
Four seasons in, that deal has been an unqualified success from the Phillies’ perspective. Wheeler has the most fWAR (19.3) of any starter in baseball since the start of the 2020 season, as he has posted a 3.06 ERA, 26.7% strikeout rate, 5.3% walk rate, and 47% grounder rate over 629 1/3 regular-season innings in a Philadelphia uniform. The right-hander has been even more dominant during the postseason, delivering a 2.42 ERA over 63 1/3 playoff innings to help carry the Phillies to an NL pennant and an NLCS appearance over the last two seasons.
There aren’t many red flags on Wheeler as he enters his age-34 season, even if his 3.61 ERA in 2023 was the highest of his Philadelphia tenure. He generated fewer grounders and allowed a bit more hard contact than usual, and Wheeler relied more heavily on his signature four-seamer than ever before — he reduced his cutter usage since the secondary pitch wasn’t as effective as it had been in 2021-22.
Health-wise, Wheeler underwent a Tommy John surgery in 2015 and battled some other arm problems during his time with the Mets in 2016-17. He has been quite durable ever since, and a month-long bout of forearm tendinitis late in the 2022 season ended up being relatively minor, as Wheeler returned in strong form for the Phillies’ playoff run.
With his track record of success and durability, Wheeler figures to be one of the most sought-after members of the 2024-25 free agent class, even if he’ll be turning 35 in May 2025. As such, Wheeler and his representatives at Wasserman might seek out a bit of a premium from the Phillies in order to keep the righty from testing the market. A four-year extension isn’t an unreasonable ask given Wheeler’s relatively clean recent health history, and topping the $23.6MM average annual value on his current contract seems like a given.
The Phillies have obviously shown a willingness to spend big in acquiring and retaining star players over the last few seasons, even if this hasn’t manifested itself in many actual extensions. Jose Alvarado and Seranthony Dominguez are the only Phillies to sign extensions during Dave Dombrowski’s three-plus years as president of baseball operations, and those relatively modest deals (two years and $18.55MM in new money for Alvarado, two years and $7.25MM for Dominguez) aren’t in the stratosphere of what it’ll take to lock up Wheeler. While the Phillies kept Aaron Nola and J.T. Realmuto in the fold on new contracts, the Phils let both players reach the open market first before eventually re-signing the duo.
It was just over a month ago that Nola was re-signed to a seven-year, $172MM deal, cementing the right-hander as a staple of the Phils’ rotation through the rest of the decade. Nola joins Bryce Harper and Trea Turner as Philadelphia players who are already signed through at least the 2030 season, plus Realmuto and Kyle Schwarber are on the books through 2025, and Taijuan Walker and Nick Castellanos are signed through 2026. An extension for Wheeler would put yet another hefty contract on the team’s ledger, though spending big on star talent has long been Dombrowski’s M.O. The Phillies have exceeded the luxury tax in each of the last two seasons and are projected to be well over at least the first tax threshold in 2024, so owner John Middleton isn’t showing any signs of cutting back given how close the Phillies have come to a championship.
That said, it seems like a lot of the heavy lifting is over on the Phillies’ 2023-24 offseason work, now that Nola has been re-signed and Yoshinobu Yamamoto is officially off the market. Signing Yamamoto would have arguably been a luxury for the team, yet the team viewed him as a special player worthy of a strong push, and Dombrowski told Zolecki and other reporters that “I think we were extremely competitive” in at least getting Yamamoto’s attention.
“We were aggressive. When we made our presentation [to Yamamoto’s representatives], I think our guys did a tremendous job,” Dombrowski said. “I think they presented the organization well….I don’t think it had anything to do with anything else, he just preferred to be a Dodger. Ultimately he was just not a person attuned to coming to Philly.”
In terms of further pursuits, Dombrowski said other additions would come “more around the edges” of the roster, since so much of Philadelphia’s 26-man is already set. This will take the form of bullpen help and depth/swingman type of pitchers for the rotation, and Dombrowski downplayed the idea of adding another outfielder. With Harper now the regular first baseman and Schwarber the regular DH, the Phillies will have Castellanos, Brandon Marsh, Johan Rojas, Cristian Pache, Jake Cave, Simon Muzziotti, and utilitymen Weston Wilson and Kody Clemens all in the mix for outfield playing time.