Trade Zack Wheeler? Not happening, Phillies president Andy MacPhail said Sunday.
One year, almost to the day, after the Phillies signed Wheeler to the third-largest free-agent contract in franchise history, MacPhail refuted an ESPN.com report that the team is “open to offers” for the right-handed pitcher in an effort to slash payroll.
“We are neither shopping nor entertaining offers for Zack,” MacPhail wrote in an email. “Not something that makes any sense for us.”
Phillies managing partner John Middleton issued an even more forceful denial, telling ESPN.com, “If they offered me Babe Ruth, I wouldn’t trade [Wheeler].”
The Phillies signed Wheeler to a five-year, $118 million contract last December because they needed a top-of-the-rotation starter to pair with Aaron Nola. Wheeler delivered, too, posting a 2.92 ERA in 71 innings over 11 starts.
But the Phillies claim to have lost roughly $145 million in revenues during the pandemic-shortened, fan-free 2020 season. Middleton told employees in a June memo that ownership would invest an additional $100 million in the team, but the Phillies nevertheless let go 80 employees last month through voluntary buyouts, layoffs, and contract lapses.
Player salaries are the team’s largest expenditure, and although it’s unclear how the payroll will be affected, it seems doubtful the Phillies will spend as much as they did in 2020, when they nearly reached the $208 million luxury-tax threshold.
Trading Wheeler, who is owed $94.4 million through 2024, would create payroll flexibility. There would also be considerable interest, with the free-agent pool light on elite starting pitching after Trevor Bauer.
But the Phillies haven’t made the playoffs since 2011 and aren’t in position to waste another prime year of Bryce Harper and Nola. Moving on from Wheeler would be at cross purposes with trying to end that postseason drought.