HomeMLB RumorsPhillies Sign Zack Wheeler To Record Extension

Phillies Sign Zack Wheeler To Record Extension

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Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has been open with his desire to extend ace Zack Wheeler before he reaches free agency at the end of the 2024 season, and he got it done Monday, announcing that Wheeler has signed a three-year extension covering the 2025-27 seasons. The Wasserman client will reportedly be guaranteed $126MM on the contract, which does not include any options or opt-out opportunities.

As shown in MLBTR’s Contract Tracker, that $42MM annual rate is the largest on any contract extension in the sport’s history and the fourth-largest AAV on any contract ever, placing Wheeler only behind Shohei Ohtani, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. Wheeler has now been added to MLBTR’s list of the game’s largest AAVs ever, as well.

That the contract begins in 2025 rather than overriding the final season of the right-hander’s current five-year, $118MM contract is notable for luxury tax purposes. Because the deal goes into place in 2025, Wheeler’s CBT hit will remain $23.6MM for the upcoming season before vaulting substantially in 2025. The Phillies were already into the second tier of luxury penalization, and a significant boost for Wheeler would’ve pushed them into the third tier, dropping their top pick in the draft by 10 spots.

Wheeler already has more than ten years of major league service time, and he’ll hit five years with the Phillies at the end of the 2024 season. That’ll give him 10-and-5 rights, granting Wheeler the power to veto any potential trade over the life of his new contract with the Phils.

It’s rare for any nine-figure deal in free agency to wind up being considered a bargain, but Wheeler has been worth every penny of his original $118MM contract — and then some. Currently 33 years old, Wheeler ranks fourth in Major League Baseball with 629 1/3 innings pitched dating back to 2020, the first season of the contract. His 3.06 ERA, 2.90 FIP and 3.42 SIERA rank 11th, fourth and 15th among 121 qualified big league pitchers in that time.

Since signing with the Phils, Wheeler has punched out 26.7% of his opponents against a sparkling 5.3% walk rate. Despite the homer-friendly nature of Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park, Wheeler has yielded an average of just 0.74 homers per nine frames — closely in line with his career mark of 0.83.

Wheeler’s 96 mph average fastball velocity in 2023 was down from its 97.3 mph peak (set in 2021), but he actually posted excellent swinging-strike and opponents’ chase rates, sitting at 13.% and 36.6%, respectively. Those two marks were not only his best as a Phillie but the best single-season marks he’s posted in either category in his entire career to date. When opponents did manage to make contact against Wheeler, it was typically of the feeble variety. Hitters averaged a dismal 86.9 mph exit velocity against Wheeler this past season, placing the right-hander in the 88th percentile of big league pitchers.

Detractors can point to Wheeler’s 3.61 ERA in 2023 as a sign of decline, but as already laid out, Wheeler missed bats at career-best levels in 2023, maintained plus velocity and kept his walk rate among the league’s best. The primary skill change in Wheeler’s approach was a decline in grounders (41.2% — down from 49.6% in his first three years with Philly). That led to a few more home runs but correlated with the uptick in missed bats. Given that the Phillies annually trot out a poor defensive alignment behind their pitchers, the increase in missed bats is a better portent of long-term success than a reliance on keeping balls on the ground anyhow. Wheeler’s 71.3% strand rate — an outlier mark when looking at his year-to-year levels — figures to regress closer to the 74.3% mark he carried into the 2023 season. Assuming that indeed plays out, so long as Wheeler maintains something close to his current K-BB%, there’s a good chance his ERA will improve accordingly.

The dominance for Wheeler stretches far beyond his regular season work, however. He’s been an integral part of the Phillies’ deep playoff over the past two seasons — his first two tastes of postseason action to this point in his career. Wheeler has made 11 appearances (10 starts, one relief) and piled up 63 1/3 innings of 2.42 ERA ball with a 28.6% strikeout rate against a 4.2% walk rate while pitching in the postseason.

With Wheeler now entrenched in Philadelphia through the 2027 season and Aaron Nola also re-signed for another seven seasons, the Philadelphia rotation is set for the foreseeable future. That pair will continue to lead the way, with Ranger Suarez, Cristopher Sanchez and Taijuan Walker all controlled/signed for multiple additional seasons. Suarez is arbitration-eligible through the 2026 season, while Walker is signed through 2027 and Sanchez is controllable all the way through 2028. Strong as that group may be, the Phillies continue to be linked to a possible short-term deal with reigning NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell — though signing Snell would catapult the team into the top tier of luxury penalization, which would push the team’s top draft choice back ten spots and likely mean more than $35MM in taxes on top of any salary.

Barring a one final, surprising splash on the free agent or trade market, the Phillies have other depth options in house. Former Tigers righty Spencer Turnbull and former Braves/Rangers southpaw Kolby Allard both signed big league deals over the winter. The Phils also have a stable of touted pitching prospects including Andrew Painter (currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery), Mick Abel and Griff McGarry all working their way toward MLB debuts, giving them some quality young options. Painter isn’t likely to pitch at all in 2024 while recovering from last summer’s surgery, but he was in the mix to be the team’s fifth starter last year in spring training despite being just 19 years old during camp. He’ll be firmly in the 2025 rotation mix, though the team will presumably have him on some form of innings limit.

The Wheeler extension will take the Phillies north of $200MM in payroll commitments for the 2025 season before the first pitch of the 2024 campaign is even thrown, and with him now signed through the 2027 season, the Phils have a quartet of nine-figure deals they’ll be paying out at least four years down the road (Wheeler, Nola, Trea Turner, Bryce Harper). From a CBT standpoint, the Wheeler deal all but ensures that the Phillies will again be luxury tax payors next season at the very least. RosterResource projects Philadelphia for a hefty $229MM of luxury obligations next season, and that doesn’t even include next offseason’s dealings or any of the team’s arbitration-eligible players.

Wheeler would have been one of the top arms available in a deep class of free agent pitchers next winter. The 2024-25 offseason will still feature Corbin Burnes, Max Fried, Shane Bieber, Walker Buehler, Scherzer and Verlander — pending further extensions among the group. Gerrit Cole also has an opt-out in his contract next winter, though the Yankees can (and very likely will, barring any sort of major injury) override that opt-out by picking up a club option for a tenth season at $36MM.

Wheeler would’ve landed behind younger aces like Burnes and Fried in terms of overall earning power, but as this extension shows, his earning power on a strict AAV basis very well could have been the highest of the bunch. Instead, he’ll anchor a deep Phillies rotation that’ll take aim at a third consecutive NLCS appearance in 2024 and look to secure the World Series title they fell just short of back in 2022.

ESPN’s Buster Olney first reported that the two parties had agreed to a multi-year extension. Matt Gelb of The Athletic first reported the terms of the contract.


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