According to ESPN’s Buster Olney on Sunday morning, the Philadelphia Phillies are open to trading their No. 2 starting pitcher, 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 New York 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.
It’s a clear admission that they are not striving to be contenders 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.
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 an overwhelming need for more starting pitching depth, 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.