According to ESPN’s Buster Olney on Sunday morning, the Philadelphia Phillies are open to trading their No. 2 starting pitcher and former Mets mainstay, Zack Wheeler, this offseason amid troubling financial times.
The surprising development comes just one year after the Phillies signed the right-hander to a five-year, $118 million deal in an attempt to bolster their rotation behind young ace Aaron Nola, luring him away from the division-rival Mets.
Wheeler’s first season — albeit a shortened one due to the pandemic — in Philadelphia was a successful one, posting a 2.92 ERA with a 1.169 WHIP and 3.22 FIP. In five previous seasons with the Mets, Wheeler went 44-38 with a 3.77 ERA and 1.294 WHIP.
His availability offers a chance for the Mets to reunite with the 30-year-old while providing an alternative path for the organization to address their need of starting pitching.
New York has been linked to the likes of 2020 NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer, but Wheeler would provide a mid-rotation arm for a fraction of the price depending on what the Mets would have to part with. Though desperation from the Phillies might provide a discount. Of course, it’s worth noting that pulling off a trade with a division rival would be a difficult maneuver to pull off.
Regardless of Wheeler’s chances of returning to Queens, this is a clear admission from Philadelphia that it is not striving to be a contender in the National League East, which features the dangerous Atlanta Braves, the 2019-champion Washington Nationals, and the reloading Mets who suddenly have the richest owner in baseball to back the pursuit of the game’s top available players.
Meanwhile, the Phillies are licking their wounds from sizable financial losses during the 2020 season, losing a reported $145 million that has the organization facing a pseudo-fire sale.
It was reported last month that they would not be able to afford All-Star catcher, JT Realmuto, widely regarded as the best player at his position in the game and the very best positional free agent available on the market this winter. This came after star outfielder Bryce Harper heavily campaigned for the Phillies to retain Realmuto throughout the 2020 season and into the offseason, which was punctuated by a ninth-consecutive playoff-less campaign.
Realmuto had been linked with the Mets throughout the 2020 season and all the way into last month, but recent reports have hinted they are more interested in former Chicago White Sox All-Star, James McCann.
With Harper preparing for the third season of his massive 13-year, $330 million contract, an inability to fulfill his wish could add some tension between the player and franchise, thus immediately creating the speculation that the Phillies could be looking to unload Wheeler’s contract to come up with the necessary funds to bring back Realmuto. Olney noted that there was zero indication that the Phillies were looking to unload the albatross of Harper’s contract.
Even if that were to happen, trading away Wheeler would leave the already-thin Phillies’ pitching staff in dire straits with little reliable depth behind Nola. There is also an overwhelming need for bullpen help to improve a stable of relievers who were just the third unit in MLB history to post a collective season ERA of over 7.00 and middle-infield support. Jean Segura has popped up in trade talks this offseason while a bona fide shortstop is already on the wishlist.
With the way the Phillies are acting and what’s leaking out of their camp, there is no chance that they will properly be able to address all those needs, which makes it look as though the Mets have one less big-time contender to deal with in the NL East.