The White Sox are still reported to be among the teams chasing free-agent starting pitcher Zack Wheeler. But if they want him, it sounds like they're going to have to pay and pay big.
The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported Tuesday that Wheeler has already received a contract offer worth $100 million and will end up with a richer one five years in length.
If the White Sox are the ones who end up giving it to him, Yasmani Grandal will have only briefly held the title of the richest contract in team history. A $100 million deal — and remember, Wheeler's will be more than that, per Rosenthal — would obliterate the franchise-record $73 million pact the White Sox inked with Grandal just a couple weeks ago. That contract broke Jose Abreu's then-record $68 million by just $5 million. Now we're talking about a jump of nearly $30 million, perhaps more.
So there's the how much. As for the when, MLB Network's Jon Heyman reported a deal could come before the Winter Meetings, which begin Monday in San Diego.
Hearing Zack Wheeler deal before the Winter Meetings is very possible — maybe even probable. @Ken_Rosenthal reported bidding has already hit $100M, not a surprise considering age, innings, velocity, potential and signs of dominance. White Sox, Twins, Rangers, others in.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 3, 2019
We'll see if Wheeler ends up landing on the South Side. Rosenthal listed the Minnesota Twins, Cincinnati Reds, Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays as other suitors. But if he does, you can kiss that notion that the White Sox are unwilling or unable to spend completely goodbye. Their supposed preference to stay away from long-term deals for pitchers? A Wheeler signing would smash that idea, too.
Of course, as Rick Hahn suggested last month during the GM meetings, no talk matters unless the White Sox convert on their free-agent targets. They've done so once this winter with Grandal, but that certainly appeared to be only the beginning, what with two starting pitchers and a right fielder — and perhaps a designated hitter and more bullpen help — still on the shopping list.
Wheeler would undoubtedly fill one of those needs in the rotation, a 29-year-old right-hander whose age — and figured long-term deal — would line up perfectly with the White Sox plans for a lengthy contention window. He's shown flashes of absolute dominance, perhaps highlighted by a sterling second half in 2018, when he posted a 1.68 ERA over his final 11 starts of that season. In 2019, he had a 3.96 ERA to go along with a career-high 195 strikeouts in a career-high 195.1 innings.
While some might be wary about giving a soon-to-be 30-year-old pitcher a five-year contract worth nine figures, Wheeler's arm is nowhere near as taxed with big league innings as, say, fellow free agent Madison Bumgarner's. The two are roughly the same age, but Bumgarner has tossed a combined 1,948.1 innings between the regular season and postseason in his 11-year big league career. To compare, Wheeler has thrown 749.1 regular-season innings.
Wheeler has received some rave reviews from those who have observed him closest. SNY's Andy Martino said on a recent edition of the White Sox Talk Podcast that when Wheeler is on, he can be one of the best pitchers in baseball.
The White Sox have been adamant about their intention to follow their rebuilding plans and add an impact talent from outside the organization. Hahn has been adamant about the organization's recent track record of dispelling preconceived notions about what it will and will not do. Certainly, signing Wheeler to a five-year deal worth more than $100 million would do away with some more of those.