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Phillies finalize Zack Wheeler signing, focus on other needs at winter meetings

Adding an infielder and more pitching is the Phillies' focus at the winter meetings.

Zack Wheeler in action against the Phillies on Aug. 30.
Zack Wheeler in action against the Phillies on Aug. 30.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

SAN DIEGO — As the baseball world came together here Monday for the start of the winter meetings, the Phillies put a bow on their first big piece of offseason business.

Five days after reaching agreement on contract terms with free-agent pitcher Zack Wheeler, the Phillies finalized the five-year, $118 million deal. The 29-year-old right-hander will slot into the rotation behind ace Aaron Nola.

Wheeler has neither pitched 200 innings in a season nor been an All-Star in five big-league seasons, all spent with the New York Mets. But his appeal to the Phillies was based on an opinion shared by many talent evaluators across the game that Wheeler’s future upside still outweighs his past performance. He has had back-to-back healthy seasons and has thrown only 749 1/3 innings in his career.

The Phillies will now attempt to address their myriad other needs, notably at shortstop and third base. Free-agent shortstop Didi Gregorius is high on their list, but there’s competition from a few teams, including the Cincinnati Reds.

Pitching remains a focus, with the Phillies needing to remake the bullpen and continue adding to the starting rotation. While they’re monitoring the chase for Stephen Strasburg (third basemen Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson, too), they’re less likely to shop at the top of the market as their 2020 payroll commitments get closer to luxury-tax territory.

Now that the Wheeler signing is official, the Phillies’ payroll is approximately $188 million for luxury-tax purposes, about $20 million shy of the $208 million threshold.

There’s still a chance, of course, that ownership could agree to exceed $208 million and pay a 20% overage for every dollar it spends up to $228 million. Managing partner John Middleton has signaled a willingness to do so only if he believes the Phillies are in contention for the World Series, not merely the second National League wild-card spot.