The Philadelphia Phillies believe that their soon-to-be 34-year-old ace, Zack Wheeler, is still evolving. That’s why, on Monday, they inked him to a three-year, $126 million contract extension. The extension, which starts in 2025 and runs through the 2027 season, will make Wheeler the third-highest-paid pitcher in Major League Baseball with an AAV of $42 million. 

Since coming to the Phillies in 2020, Wheeler has only gotten better with age. Once a promising yet injury-ridden middle-of-the-rotation starter for the New York Mets, Wheeler has blossomed into the staff ace of one of the best teams in the National League, if not all of baseball. In his five years with the club, Wheeler has 43-25, with a 3.06 ERA over 629.1 regular season innings. In the last four, he has led all starting pitchers in WAR, and per Baseball Reference estimates, he’s 19.6 of his 28.7 Wins Above Replacement since signing with the Phillies. Wheeler has been equally dominant in the postseason, with a 2.42 ERA across all appearances. His pairing with Aaron Nola has become one of the deadliest one-two combinations across the sport, paving the way for the team’s recent postseason success. 

Wheeler’s extension, however, isn’t just a showing of gratitude for what he has done for the team. It’s an investment, especially as an extension, into what he can be for the next four seasons. The Phillies are hopeful that Wheeler, who remained relatively healthy over his tenure with the team, will continue to be a workhorse even as he progresses into and beyond his mid-thirties. There’s reason for optimism: because he missed significant time earlier in his career with the Mets, Wheeler has 1,378 and 2/3rds innings in the majors. Cole Hamels, through his age 33 season, racked up 2,362. Roy Halladay had tallied 2,297. 

What’s even more noteworthy, however, is that Wheeler has continued to evolve as a pitcher. Upon arriving in Philadelphia, Wheeler found success by significantly increasing his 4-seam fastball usage. Last season, Wheeler incorporated a sweeper–a slower version of his cutter, with horizontal break–to slot in between his low-90s cutter and low-80s curveball. His sweeper became his best swing-and-miss pitch last season, leading his arsenal with a 39.2% whiff rate. This year, Wheeler looks to revive his splitter for the first time since 2018 in his unyielding quest to baffle opposing hitters. It’s an encouraging sight for an aging power pitcher: as Wheeler’s fastball velocity has dipped from the upper to the mid-90s, he’s continued to add different ways to stay elite. 

In 2018, owner John Middleton spoke to the press about spending “stupid” money to improve the team after a sixth consecutive losing season. And yes, Middleton did end up spending an inordinate amount of money to bring the Phillies to the brink of a World Series championship. Hardly any of it, however, has been stupidly spent–including the cumulative $244 that Wheeler will pocket at the end of his contract extension. Perhaps a better way to phrase it is that the Phillies have a stupid amount of money to spend and are willing to spend it on the right player. The front office knew that retaining Wheeler would cost upward of a franchise record $40 million per year. Their willingness to spend it on Wheeler is both an admission–of his value to the team and their willingness to spend inordinate amounts of money on the players they want the most–and a bet that the last few years of Wheeler’s career will be enough to carry them into deep into October, time and time again.

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