By Sam Bush
The Phillies signing of free agent pitcher Zack Wheeler is a good sign for the market as a whole that a second-tier free agent is getting a nine-figure deal.
And that this happened in early December instead of late January or even after camps open in February is a hopeful harbinger for the rest of MLB’s free agents.
But $118 million for a pitcher with a decidedly average track record?
Wheeler, 29, is 44-38 with a 3.77 ERA in 126 career starts, all for the Mets. He has never been an All-Star. He has ranked in the top 10 in the NL in innings, strikeouts and WHIP once apiece, never finishing that high in ERA. His career ERA+ is 100, which literally means he’s a league-average pitcher.
There’s nothing wrong with being league-average. Unless your club is paying you like an elite starter, which is what the Phillies are now doing with Wheeler.
He will slot into the rotation in between talented-but-inconsistent ace Aaron Nola and fast-fading former ace Jake Arrieta.
Will that be enough to catapult this team over the Nationals and Braves?
It sure doesn’t feel like it’s going to make that much difference, especially when you consider Wheeler’s career struggles against the Nats (5-10, 5.01 ERA in 18 starts, including a 6.83 ERA in five starts this season). The Braves likewise owned him this year, scoring 17 runs on 34 hits and 11 walks in only 23 innings.