If the Phillies are Listening, the White Sox Should be in on Zack Wheeler

Last winter the White Sox coveted the services of former New York Mets right-handed starter, Zack Wheeler. Ultimately Wheeler shocked the White Sox when he passed on their superior offer — which according to Bob Nightengale was north of the $120 million threshold — to sign a five-year, $118 million pact with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Wheeler and his family wanted to stay close to the New Jersey area long-term, and that desire outweighed the money in the end. Now, almost a year to the date of him signing with the Phillies, Buster Olney of ESPN is reporting that the Phillies are listening to offers on the star right-hander as they navigate their way through a financial snafu.

“The Philadelphia Phillies have communicated to other teams that they are facing a financial crunch and are open to offers for their second-highest-paid player, starting pitcher Zack Wheeler, according to sources.”

If the Phillies are listening, the White Sox should be in hot pursuit of Wheeler’s services once again.

Wheeler, 30, pitched to a 2.92 ERA in 11 starts for the Phillies in the truncated 2020 season with a 55.9 percent ground ball rate and a 5.6 percent walk rate over the course of 71 innings of work. While Wheeler’s strikeout rate was down (6.72 K/9) from his career norm of 8.55 K/9, his BB/9 was below three for the third consecutive season (2.03 BB/9) and his ground ball rate (55.9 percent) and his HR/FB ratio (7.5 percent) were both down significantly from his career norms.

We saw how well Dallas Keuchel‘s upper echelon ground ball rate fared at Guaranteed Rate Field last season. Imagine having Wheeler and Keuchel back-to-back in the rotation in a season in which they’ll throw three times as many games at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Since the start of the 2018 season, Wheeler has a 3.53 ERA (3.34 FIP), 8.57 K/9 (427 K), 2.43 BB/9 (121 BB), 45.7 percent ground ball rate, 0.78 HR/9, 1.19 WHIP, and 10.8 fWAR over the course of 448.2 innings pitched. Just as I said many times last winter, sign me up for that on the Southside.

Many will look at his K/9 being down, but miss the fact that while he missed fewer bats, he kept the baseball on the ground at a high clip, limited hard contact and home runs, had a low walk rate, and left 74.6 percent of opposing base runners on base. I’m not worried about the slight downtick in swings-and-misses.

With four years and $96.5 million left on his deal, the White Sox would be getting him at an extremely affordable price point ($23.6MM AAV), and they’ll be getting him for less than they would have if they had signed him one year ago. The Phillies also lost a draft pick to the Mets in the competitive balance for signing Wheeler, something the White Sox avoided.

If the White Sox were to land Trevor Bauer for four years, they’d be paying him an AAV of $29MM according to Fangraphs’ 2021 Free Agent Tracker Tool, a deal that would be in the neighborhood of $116 million. While Trevor Bauer had a phenomenal 2020 season, he’s the same age as Wheeler and would cost the White Sox roughly $19 million more than Wheeler.

If you look at Bauer and Wheeler as a side-by-side comparison over the last three years, that’s a price gap that doesn’t quite jive.

Zack Wheeler448.23.533.348.572.4345.70.781.1910.8
Trevor Bauer461.13.183.3811.203.2439.81.011.1211.6

While this isn’t a discussion of who I would rather have, the resumes are very close across the board, at a very different price point.

What would it take for the White Sox to land Wheeler?

That’s a good question. My immediate thought is that Wheeler could be had a cost somewhere in between acquiring Lance Lynn and Blake Snell to use two bandied about avenues for the White Sox this winter.

Snell is younger, left-handed, has a Cy Young Award and World Series experience under his belt, and comes at a more affordable price point than Wheeler. It’s been discussed that a hypothetical return for Snell would start with a top prospect such as Andrew Vaughn.

While I don’t think they can get away with a hodgepodge of middle-tier prospects like they conceivably could in a deal for a 33-year-old, one-year rental, Lance Lynn, I think that the White Sox would be able to hold onto their most coveted prospects in a package for Wheeler.

There’s no doubt that Wheeler would slot into the No. 2 spot in the rotation behind Giolito for the next four years at a very reasonable price point if the White Sox do acquire him, so if the Phillies are taking calls, Hahn should be on the line immediately.

Featured Photo: Julio Aguilar | Credit: Getty Images

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