'I want to be here': Wheeler signs extension with Phils through '27

March 4th, 2024

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- doesn’t want to pitch when he is old.

Old is relative, of course. Wheeler is only 33. He turns 34 on May 30. But the right-hander has been one of baseball’s best pitchers the past four years, and a lot of teams would bet he will dominate into his late 30s, maybe into his early 40s. Wheeler doesn’t want that, though. So months before he signed a three-year, $126 million contract extension with the Phillies on Monday, he told everybody involved that he wanted a short-term deal. That meant no more than three years for Philadelphia, and probably no more than two years for anybody else.

No four-, five-, six- or seven-year deals.

No options.

No opt outs.

“I do enjoy pitching, and I want to be here,” Wheeler said Monday morning at BayCare Ballpark. “I love competing. But I don't want to play until I'm old-old. And I want to be around my family. But I'm definitely enjoying the moment here, enjoying every moment I take the mound. It's special, and not everybody gets to do it. Not everybody gets to do it as long as I have. I'm grateful for that.”

Wheeler’s deal carries the highest average annual value ($42 million) for a contract extension in MLB history. It is the third-highest AAV for any pitcher behind Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, and the fourth-highest AAV for any player behind Shohei Ohtani, Scherzer and Verlander. Negotiations like these can be difficult, but this one seemed relatively easy. It helped that Wheeler wanted to stay in Philly, and the Phillies acknowledged the obvious from the beginning.

“We said, ‘Well, let’s establish right now he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball,’” Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. “Is he first, second, third? We don’t have to get into that. But he’s one of the best. And the reality is, when you start not only talking about being one of the best pitchers, he’s one of the best big-game pitchers in the game of baseball. So in the postseason, when he takes that ball, I can’t think of anybody that I would rather have to take the mound than Zack.”

The Phillies initially hoped to keep Wheeler’s AAV alongside Jacob deGrom ($37 million), Gerrit Cole ($36 million) and Stephen Strasburg ($35 million), but they soon realized they would need to move closer to future Hall of Famers Scherzer and Verlander (both $43.33 million), especially on a short-term deal.

“You just have to kind of get it done,” Phillies managing partner John Middleton said. “It was just like when we signed Bryce [Harper], there were numbers out there that if you were really going to consider signing Bryce, you just had to understand you were going to be at a certain number. … You know what's out there on the market. You weren't going to get him for 35. You weren't going to get him for 37.5. It had to start with 40. The question is, ‘Where is it over 40?’”

Wheeler’s agent, B.B. Abbott, had an airtight case. Wheeler is 43-25 with a 3.06 ERA in 101 starts since he signed a five-year, $118 million contract with the Phillies in Dec. 2019. It is the fourth-best ERA in the Majors over that span (minimum 500 innings), trailing only Corbin Burnes (2.86), Scherzer (2.94) and Shane Bieber (2.98). Wheeler's 19.6 bWAR and 19.3 fWAR over the past four years are each the best in the Majors among pitchers. He has a 2.42 ERA over the past two postseasons, which is the sixth-best in MLB history (minimum 10 postseason starts).

Wheeler is at the top of his game. He wants to leave that way.

“I can see him winning a Cy Young his last year and walking away,” Abbott said. “He said, ‘I want to put my foot down on the accelerator and try to go get three rings. I don’t want to hold anything back.’ I think he impressed on you guys that he wants to see his kids grow up. I do not think he will play beyond this contract, personally.”

A lot of players say that until it’s time to walk away. Feelings change.

“I’ve been there with Charlie Morton and some other guys,” Abbott said. “They love the clubhouse. They love being around the guys. They love the camaraderie. They love all of those things. Zack does, but he’s just a different breed, a different guy. I really think you’ll see him want to go over 200 innings every single year of his deal and leave it on the field. He’s that guy that I do not think you’re going to rip the jersey off his back.”

A World Series or two, plus a Cy Young or two, would make the Phillies’ $126 million commitment an even bigger bargain than Wheeler’s last deal.

“I love those big moments,” Wheeler said. “I don't know. I really just enjoy being here in Philly. The fans are the best. Playing in Citizens Bank in October, there's nothing like it.”

Monday’s press conference capped a remarkable 10 days. Wheeler and the Phillies reached an agreement on Feb. 24. Wheeler’s wife, Dominique, gave birth to their daughter, Winter, on Tuesday, making him a father of three. He took his physical over the weekend before the deal was announced on Monday.

Now, Wheeler just needs to pitch like he has in the past.

“There's definitely pressure, especially being in Philadelphia,” Wheeler said. “It's a tough place to play. … You're going to have your ups and downs. You'll have your bad games, bad innings. You might get booed here and there. Booed off the field, but it's part of the game. You take that in and use that as motivation and just try to build off of that because you don't want that to happen again. There is pressure to live up to the contract. But if you take care of what you need to, hopefully it will take care of itself on the field.”