The Phillies have address a major area of need, if their reported signing of right-handed pitcher Zack Wheeler to a five-year, $118 million deal is true (and there’s no reason to believe multiple reliable reporters are wrong).
And that big, huge, massive deal brings up one important question: Good move, but what’s next?
This is a Phillies team that’s won a lot of headlines over the past calendar year or so — hi Bryce, Cutch, J.T., Jean and David! — but hasn’t won nearly enough games (they haven’t finished over .500 since 2011) and is still, by most any objective measure, the third-best team in the NL East, behind the reigning World Series champion Nationals and reigning division champion Braves.
This, folks, wasn’t a Phillies team just one starting pitcher away from a World Series title.
Heck, at the moment, the MLB.com depth chart lists Scott Kingery as the starter at both second base and third base, lists Jay Bruce — entering his Age 33 season, coming off a .235 on-base percentage in 51 games for the Phillies last year — as the starter in left field, has spots in the rotation filled by guys who posted FIPs of 4.85, 4.89 and 5.21 last year (Zach Elfin, Jake Arrieta and Vince Velasquez, respectively) and brings back a lot of bullpen arms from the group that finished 12th of 15 NL teams with a 4.91 FIP.
So, yeah. What’s next, Philly?
There’s no reason to think the front office is done, of course. December has barely started and the Wheeler signing is a big step in the right direction. There’s still room in the budget for signings, and not just low-hanging fruit. The free-agent market was given an small influx of talent when 56 players were non-tendered, as teams chose to pursue other options instead of heading into the arbitration process. There are, certainly, at least a couple of potential lower-cost upgrades in that group for the Phillies to consider, should that be the path.
Oh, and owner John Middleton is motivated.
“Listen, we didn’t make these moves so we could get 83 wins,” Middleton said. “That’s not where we’re going here.”
Middleton, of course, said that last year, talking with a group of reporters after the Bryce Harper introduction last spring on the field of the Phillies’ Clearwater field. The Phillies didn’t even get to 83 wins in 2019, and it’s safe to assume Middleton’s desire hasn’t dimmed after yet another season of frustration.
“Frankly,” Middleton said last spring, “all I really care about is getting that trophy.”
Wheeler isn’t the final piece of that equation, but he is movement toward that goal.