Cole Hamels

At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman react to the big news of the Phillies agreeing to a five-year deal with Zack Wheeler on the latest At The Yard podcast.

They also discuss the possibility of the Phillies signing Didi Gregorius, Cole Hamels heading to the Braves, and much more.

• Initial impressions of the signing
• What the guys like most about Wheeler
• Was this the right price?
• Bittersweet day with Hamels to Braves
• Phillies still need to add another good SP
• One Wheeler concern
• The market for Anthony Rendon



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Phillies sign free agent Zack Wheeler to 5-year deal

Phillies sign free agent Zack Wheeler to 5-year deal

The Phillies have added a big arm to pair with Aaron Nola atop their starting pitching rotation.

Multiple sources have confirmed that the team has agreed on a five-year, $118 million deal with free-agent right-hander Zack Wheeler.

Wheeler joins Bryce Harper, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard as the only players in Phillies history to receive contracts of $100 million or more.

Wheeler, 29, has been plagued by injuries and inconsistency in his career, but he possesses elite stuff — his 97-mph average velocity was fourth-best in the majors in 2019 — and is seen as a pitcher ready to blossom. The Phillies are banking on it happening with them.

Adding a pitcher who profiles near the top of the rotation was the Phillies’ No. 1 offseason objective, but they still have work to do if they are going to break a postseason drought that has reached eight seasons. Adding an infield bat such as Didi Gregorius is a high-priority item. The Phils are in talks with Gregorius. The team also continues to monitor the market for starting pitching, but probably for more of a low-ticket arm that could add depth.

In addition to a big fastball, Wheeler has excellent breaking stuff. He was the No. 6 overall pick by San Francisco in the 2009 draft. He was traded to the Mets two years later for Carlos Beltran, who is now the Mets manager. Wheeler is 44-38 with a 3.77 ERA in 126 career big-league starts. He will turn 30 in May.

Like all pitchers on long-term, big-money contracts, Wheeler comes with risk. He missed significant time recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2015 and 2016. He spent time on the injured list in 2017 and was briefly sidelined in 2019 with what was called shoulder fatigue. He rebounded quickly and was able to make 31 starts, but his health history can't be ignored. Still, this was a move that the Phillies, in win-now mode and desperate for starting pitching, had to make. When the dust settles on this free-agent winter, Wheeler’s contract could pale in comparison to what Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg get.

Obviously, Cole and Strasburg are much more accomplished pitchers than Wheeler, but many evaluators see Wheeler as an ascending talent. He has been mostly healthy the last two seasons, going 23-15 with a 3.65 ERA in 60 starts for the Mets. He has pitched 182 1/3 and 195 1/3 innings, respectively, the last two seasons, a good sign after struggling with injuries early in his career.

Wheeler has gotten stronger as the last two seasons have progressed. He went 14-3 with a 2.26 ERA after the All-Star break the last two seasons. The Phillies, who have suffered big collapses the last two Septembers, could benefit from Wheeler's second-half prowess. He will join Nola, Jake Arrieta and Zach Eflin in an evolving starting rotation that could also include someone already in the organization or a low-profile addition in the coming weeks.

Wheeler chose the Phillies over the Chicago White Sox. The Sox reportedly had more money on the table. Wheeler, who hails from Georgia, has family in New Jersey and that certainly did not hurt the Phillies' cause.

The Mets had extended Wheeler a $17.8 million qualifying offer for 2020 so the Phillies will forfeit their second pick in the June draft for signing him. The Phils have a new scouting director — former Yankees scout Brian Barber — and want to build through the draft. Forfeiting high-round draft picks is not conducive to that. But this was a price the Phils had to pay to address their need for pitching at the big-league level.

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Sorry, folks, no storybook return to Philly for Cole Hamels

Sorry, folks, no storybook return to Philly for Cole Hamels

It sounded like a great idea.

But it won’t happen.

Cole Hamels is headed to the Atlanta Braves on a one-year, $18 million contract, according to ESPN. The veteran lefty had been pursued by a handful of teams, and the Phillies did have interest, but the Braves made the top bid.

Hamels’ landing with the Braves — especially on a one-year deal — will no doubt sting in Philadelphia. Hamels was drafted by the Phils in 2002 and six years later was MVP of the franchise’s second World Series championship. Hamels was traded to Texas as part of a rebuild in the summer of 2015 and many fans had hoped he’d return as a free agent this winter. Even Hamels talked about a potential reunion in Philadelphia last May.

The sting is compounded by the fact that Hamels is going to an NL East rival. The Braves and Phillies play 19 times per season and Hamels could make a half-dozen or more starts per season against the Phils. Hamels has pitched against the Phils twice in his career — both last season with the Chicago Cubs — and it has not gone well. He was tagged for 18 hits and 11 runs in just six innings.

The Braves, who won the NL East each of the last two seasons, remain in go-for-it mode. They have had a busy winter, previously signing free-agent relievers Will Smith and Chris Martin and catcher Travis d’Arnaud. Hamels will be the elder statesman in a rotation that includes youngsters Mike Soroka, an All-Star at 21 last season, and Max Fried. He will be backed by a big offense that features Phillie killer Freddie Freeman and young guns Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies.

Hamels, who turns 36 this month, is no longer the top-of-the rotation pitcher he was during his prime in Philadelphia, but, if healthy, he can be a strong stabilizer in the back half of any team’s rotation. He had a 3.81 ERA for the Cubs in 27 starts last season but missed a month with an oblique injury suffered in late June. Hamels was quite good before the injury, recording 2.98 ERA in 17 starts. He struggled and pitched to a 5.79 ERA in 10 starts after returning from the IL. He did not receive a qualifying offer from the Cubs so he will not cost the Braves a draft pick.

So, where do the Phillies go from here as they attempt to improve and deepen their starting rotation?

Well, they are trying to sign Zack Wheeler to work along with Aaron Nola near the top of the rotation and they continue to look for stabilizers and innings-eaters who can fill out the middle and back end of the rotation with Zach Eflin and Jake Arrieta.

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