PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies plan to make moves at some point this offseason, but they said Sunday they are not trading Zack Wheeler.
Phillies managing partner John Middleton “angrily” denied an ESPN report Sunday that the organization told front-office executives from other teams that it is open to trading Wheeler because it is facing tough financial decisions following the pandemic-shortened 60-game season. The Phillies, who recently cut 80 jobs from their baseball- and business-operations departments, said they project losses in excess of $150 million this year.
“If they offered me Babe Ruth, I wouldn’t trade him,” Middleton told ESPN Sunday afternoon in a telephone interview.
Middleton said he would not trade Wheeler for Ted Williams or Mike Schmidt, either.
But The Athletic on Monday morning confirmed ESPN’s initial report that the Phillies had been “talking quietly with clubs” about Wheeler. Of course, as the report noted, teams talk all the time about countless trade possibilities. It does not mean any will happen, but front-office executives like to leave those doors open. After all, if the Padres called interim general manager Ned Rice and offered shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. for Wheeler -- yes, this is a call that would never happen -- certainly Rice would run that to president Andy MacPhail and ownership.
Well, maybe not now.
Yes, trading Wheeler would save the Phillies money. He signed a five-year, $118 million contract last December. But he also is one of their best players, and the top of the Phillies’ rotation is one of the team’s strengths. Dealing one of their best pitchers would indicate the Phillies are looking past the 2021 season, and there is no reason to think they want to begin another rebuild, especially with Bryce Harper beginning the third year of a 13-year, $330 million contract.
“I have authorized no one to have a conversation about trading him,” Middleton said about Wheeler.
The Phillies might want to leave the heavy lifting regarding the 40-man roster to their future president of baseball operations. Middleton seems to be making progress there. NBC Sports Philadelphia reported that Dodgers senior vice president of baseball operations Josh Byrnes and former Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill had second interviews.
Twins general manager Thad Levine was a strong candidate, but he removed himself from consideration.
At the moment, some form of Middleton, president Andy MacPhail, interim general manager Ned Rice and former general manager Matt Klentak, who was reassigned after the season, remain involved in baseball operations. The Phillies said publicly they did not plan to be aggressive early in the offseason. Indeed, sources told MLB.com last week that the Phillies never engaged three free-agent pitchers who could have helped the rotation and bullpen: right-hander Charlie Morton, who signed a one-year, $15 million contract with the Braves; left-hander Drew Smyly, who signed a one-year, $11 million contract with the Braves; and right-hander Trevor May, who signed a two-year, $15.5 million contract with the Mets.
If the Phillies hire Hill, Byrnes or somebody else to run baseball operations in the coming week or weeks, perhaps they will get more aggressive.
Either way, Middleton said Wheeler isn’t going anywhere.