Four years in a row, Zack Wheeler has provided the Phillies with ace-level production.
Two years in a row, he has peaked when it mattered most, dominating playoff teams in front of national audiences.
He has been part of the All-Star team. He has won a Gold Glove. He finished second in the Cy Young voting. He is a 10-time postseason starter with the sixth-lowest ERA (2.42) and lowest WHIP (0.73) of all time.
He’s on the short list of the best free agent signings in Philadelphia sports history, and he’s almost ready to be a free agent again.
The five-year, $118 million contract Wheeler signed with the Phillies before 2020, a contract some questioned at the time because it was more about projection than past performance, expires after this season.
If he hits free agency after 2024, his age-34 season, the teams will be aligned. Deep-pocketed clubs in major markets will be in a position to offer Wheeler short-term Max Scherzer-like deals with huge average annual salaries. And even in his mid-30s, Wheeler’s recent track record and his relatively low career innings total could convince management that he’s worth a deal that brings him closer to his 40th birthday. (Caveat) mandatory “except injury”.)
It only takes one team to change a player’s market, and the Phillies hope Wheeler never hits the market. They want to re-sign him in advance. They wanted the same thing with Aaron Nola but couldn’t reach a deal before the 2023 season and did so amid uncertainty the week before Thanksgiving with other clubs lurking.
There were signs two months ago that Wheeler’s team seemed more interested in testing free agency than re-signing early. But as Phillies pitchers and catchers reported to Clearwater Wednesday for spring training, Wheeler said his representatives are discussing a contract extension with the Phillies.
“I think they’ve talked. It’s something between them right now. I haven’t heard much,” Wheeler said. “I know they’re chatting like anyone in this situation. I’m just trying to focus on what we’re doing now and getting ready for the season.
“I hope it does (it gets resolved before the regular season). I love it here. We’re happy here. It’s a good organization, we’re winning and everything looks great and good. I would love to be here.
“I think it could happen at any time. I don’t know if there are deadlines or anything. I’ll leave it to my agent and the front office. I don’t intervene and just listen.”
Wheeler, who watched Nola pitch during a walk year in 2023, said he is approaching next season like any other.
“It’s not difficult at all for me,” he said. “Maybe for some guys, but it’s just another year for me. I hope to go out and do well, stay healthy and everything will take care of itself.”
Wheeler made it clear that he wants to be paid what he’s worth, but he also said that money is not the only factor involved in his decision, referencing that it took less to sign with the Phillies than what the White Sox offered in 2019.
“For me it’s not all about money,” he said. “It cost me less to come here and be in a good place and be happy here and my family be happy. I want what I feel like I’ve earned, but at the same time, you don’t always get it. It’s “Everyone being happy at the same time . You don’t want to be miserable and get paid a lot. “You want to be happy and get paid what you earned.”