Philadelphia desperately needed a starting pitcher. Their staff beyond Aaron Nola was a mess last season – Drew Smyly was a welcome boost when picked up midway through the year. Wheeler is their man, and on a contract like that, it’s hard to see the Phillies adding another big-name arm this winter.
What Philadelphia are relying on is that Wheeler’s underlying numbers finally produce ace-level performance. He’s been a great third starter on the Mets, backing up Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom. The durability is there – which wasn’t always the case – with 60 starts over the last two seasons, but Wheeler was barely above league average on ERA+ last season.
The money committed to him suggests ace performance. Thus far in his career, however, Wheeler hasn’t lived up to either expectations or hype for the most part. His second half of 2018 was the closest he came, but 2019 was another solid, not great, year from him. A former sixth overall pick, there were eyebrows raised when the San Francisco Giants traded him. The talent level and stuff has been exciting, though Wheeler hasn’t been more than a number three.
This could be considered a test of Philadelphia’s pitching coaches. It may ultimately be down to them whether this contract turns out to be an overpay or not. The Houston Astros transformed Gerrit Cole, the Tampa Bay Rays did the same with Tyler Glasnow. The Phillies need something similar with Wheeler for five years and $118 million to be worth it.
The other scenario, perhaps, is that the money is irrelevant and the Phillies happily keep spending. If the owners are going to spend freely, maybe the cost/value of Wheeler doesn’t matter too much. Perhaps they add Madison Bumgarner or Hyun-Jin Ryu and Wheeler can slot back into a number three starter level and it won’t hurt the team.
It’s unlikely the Philadelphia owners have an unlimited budget. For a roster that has plenty of work to be done on it, this outlay for a player with the uncertainty of Wheeler is a risk. It’s a risk the Phillies desperately need to pay off.