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How Zack Wheeler’s $118 million Philadelphia Phillies’ contract became a bargain

Philadelphia-Phillies-Zack-Wheeler
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

In December 2019, the Philadelphia Phillies rolled the dice on a $118 million contract with former New York Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler. Two years later, Wheeler has utterly out-pitched his contract.

Across his two seasons with the club, this season in particular, Wheeler has established himself as the Phillies’ ace. That was magnified after a brilliant complete-game shutout against his former Mets team on Aug. 8.

Zack Wheeler stats (2021): 2.42 ERA, 2.49 FIP, 1.03 WHIP, 156 ERA+ and 181 strikeouts over 156.0 innings (23 starts)

Zack Wheeler has been elite for the Philadelphia Phillies

zack wheeler contract
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The aforementioned stat line speaks for itself. Wheeler has been a beast this season.

He’s essentially fooling and overpowering hitters with all four of his offerings, that being fastball, slider, sinker and curveball. Wheeler is pitching deep into games, striking hitters out at a high rate and is a legitimate National League Cy Young Award candidate.

Furthermore, Wheeler leads MLB in innings pitched and is second in strikeouts with five shutouts to his name this season. Wheeler was pretty much the same pitcher in 2020, finishing the season with a 2.92 ERA and a 151 ERA+ over 71.0 innings (11 starts). He has merely been an enhanced version of his 2020 self this season. The velocity, command and offerings have all come together for the former first-round draft selection.

Wheeler got in a groove towards the end of his time with the Mets and has taken his game to the next level with the Phillies. As is, he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball. Wheeler has been as lethal and reliable as any right-handed arm in MLB over the last two seasons and has been the Phillies’ best starting pitcher since Roy Halladay.

Zack Wheeler’s contract is a steal for the Philadelphia Phillies

gerrit cole contract compared to zack wheeler
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s compare Wheeler’s contract, which features roughly a $24 million average annual salary, to contracts inked by some of the sport’s premier starting pitchers over the last three years:

  • Gerrit Cole (nine-year, $324 million deal with the New York Yankees)
  • Stephen Strasburg (seven-year, $245 million deal with the Washington Nationals)
  • Patrick Corbin (six-year, $140 million deal with the Washington Nationals)
  • Trevor Bauer (three-year, $102 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers)
  • Clayton Kershaw (three-year, $93 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers)
  • Madison Bumgarner (five-year, $85 million deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks)
  • Hyun-Jin Ryu (four-year, $80 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays)

These teams either got what they paid for (Yankees and Blue Jays) or have seen their once plausible contracts become a payroll nightmare (Nationals, Dodgers and D-Backs).

As for the teams that are getting what they paid for, it’s not as if their investment has been a sight to behold: it has merely been a contract that was worth the price of admission and nothing more.

If Wheeler hit the open market this offseason, he’d get a contract that starts with an average annual salary of at least $30 million. Instead, he’s under contract with the Phillies for three more seasons at far below market value for an ace. The Phillies have an extraordinary value on their hands.

Zack Wheeler is the backbone of the Philadelphia Phillies’ pitching staff

Where would the Phillies be without Wheeler this season? In a season where they’ve been hovering around .500 and are trying to become a definite shape, Wheeler has given the Phillies the chance to be victorious every fifth day.

The offense has been hot and cold while the bullpen keeps crippling and the rotation is monotonous behind Wheeler. Regarding the latter, Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin have been shaky. Vince Velasquez has been all over the place. Chase Anderson and Matt Moore have struggled mightily. The bullpen entered Sunday’s action with a 4.59 ERA while the rotation sported a 4.42 ERA.

Wheeler is the lone starter that has been a reliable force for manager Joe Girardi. Without the former, the Phillies have a dreadful rotation. He has literally put an entire pitching staff on his back to give it a shred of credibility in the midst of the Phillies trying to win the NL East in a year where the five-team cluster has been puzzling to no end.

The organization paid a premium for a number two/three starting pitcher and ended up getting an ace. Zack Wheeler is a $118 million bargain for the Philadelphia Phillies.