'It could happen any time': Wheeler optimistic for contract extension

February 14th, 2024

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- has been one of baseball’s truly elite pitchers since he signed with the Phillies in December 2019.

His next contract will reflect that.

The Phillies and Wheeler’s agent are talking about a contract extension, Wheeler confirmed Wednesday afternoon at BayCare Ballpark. Both parties share some level of optimism that an agreement will be reached before Opening Day. It is the Phillies’ No. 1 priority, sources said.

“Hopefully, it does [happen],” Wheeler said, following the Phillies’ first pitchers and catchers workout. “I love it here. We’re happy here. It’s a good organization. We’re winning. All things are looking great and right. So, I’d love to be here.”

Wheeler said he has set no deadline to strike a deal. Last spring, Aaron Nola paused contract negotiations once he could not reach an agreement with the Phillies before Opening Day. Nola signed a seven-year, $172 million deal in November.

“I think it could happen any time,” Wheeler said. “Honestly, I don’t know if there are deadlines or anything like that. I’m just leaving that to my agent and the front office to kind of settle out. I’m just kind of hands off and listening.

“Deadline-type stuff, I haven’t really been a fan of it. I’ve seen other guys do it, but that’s just their cup of tea. Like I said, I’ll just leave that with them and my agent. Just let them settle it.”

Since late November, sources have said that Wheeler is looking for a relatively short-term deal, but with an average annual value (AAV) that rivals Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. Scherzer, 39, signed a three-year, $130 million contract that runs through 2024 ($43.33 million AAV). Verlander, 40, signed a two-year, $86.7 million deal that runs through '24 ($43.33 million AAV).

If Wheeler, who turns 34 on May 30, doesn’t hit the $40 million mark, he figures to be in the neighborhood of Jacob deGrom ($37 million AAV), Gerrit Cole ($36 million) and Stephen Strasburg ($35 million AAV). After all, his 19.6 bWAR and 19.3 fWAR the past four seasons are the best in MLB among pitchers, and his 2.42 ERA in the postseason is the sixth best in MLB history (minimum 10 starts).

Clearly, he has outperformed the five-year, $118 million deal he signed more than four years ago.

“I want to be paid on how I’ve done and what they expect out of me, that type of stuff,” Wheeler said. “It’s not all about the money to me, either. I took less to come here, be in a good spot and be happy and [have] my family be happy. I do want what I feel like I’ve earned, I guess you could say.

"But at the same time, you don’t always get that. It’s about everybody being happy at the same time. I think that’s the biggest deal. You don’t want to be miserable and paid a lot. It’s being happy and getting what you’ve earned.”

The Phillies fell two wins short of a World Series title in 2022. They fell five wins short in 2023. Wheeler wants to see the Phillies finish the job.

“We’ve tasted it the past few years,” he said. “It makes us more hungry. Last year, we didn’t get back to the World Series and that was a disappointment because we expected to get back there. We were very close. … Now we’re probably more hungry. We’ve got the same group of guys. We remember that type of stuff.”

Wheeler is working this spring to help the Phillies take the next step. A year after coming to camp working on a sweeper, he said Wednesday he is working on a changeup.

It is a pitch he has had in his arsenal, but it is one he has rarely thrown.

Wheeler’s changeup plans echoed Roy Halladay’s first camp with the Phillies in 2010. Already one of baseball’s best pitchers, Halladay said he wanted to learn to throw a changeup to take his game to another level.

Halladay did. He won the NL Cy Young that year.

Maybe Wheeler does the same. If so, maybe his next contract is a bargain, too.

“I’m not all that worried about it,” Wheeler said. “I think it’ll take care of itself. I know I’ve done well the past few years. So, hopefully that speaks for itself.”