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Should the Yankees make a run at Zack Wheeler?

It is no secret that the Yankees need help with starting pitching. After writing Gerrit Cole’s name in permanent marker at the top, the rest of the rotation is filled with question marks. At some point Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery have shown promise at times. However, the team is in desperate need of some reinforcements.

Unfortunately, the free agent market is pretty dry this year after Trevor Bauer. After Bauer, the Yankees could look to bring back Masahiro Tanaka or James Paxton but both have major question marks including age and health.

Going into the offseason it seemed like the only possible trade candidate was reuniting with Lance Lynn from Texas. However, a story broke yesterday on ESPN that the Phillies were facing a “financial crunch” and were open to trading Zack Wheeler.

Later in the day Phillies owner stated that the rumors were completely false and they would not be trading Wheeler.

At this point it is hard to say if the Phillies are open to moving Wheeler. The Phillies have claimed to have lost “$2 billion” due to the coronavirus and are said to be priced out of resigning JT Realmuto. Meanwhile, they don’t have a general manager and seem to be moving with very little direction. Perhaps Middleton’s comments were more about trying to save trade value and less about strategic direction. If Wheeler is available, the Yankees will have to decide if they want to make a move.

The Argument For It

Last year was Wheeler’s finest season. In the shortened season he compiled a 4-2 record with a 2.92 ERA and struck out 53 in 71 innings. Over the past three seasons, Wheeler has a 3.53 ERA and has been worth 10.6 Wins Above Replacement. With Wheeler, the Yankees would immediately improve their rotation by inserting him into the second spot. With the return of Severino and hopefully a breakout season from Garcia, Montgomery, Schmidt or King, the Yankees could suddenly have a really solid rotation.

Furthermore, if the Phillies are looking to shed salary, they may be more willing for a prospect return similar to the Stanton trade. If the Yankees are able to move low-level prospects, they likely will be asked to take on most if not all of Wheeler’s contract. However, the Yankees have the money if they are willing to pay the luxury tax to bring Wheeler to the Bronx.

The Argument Against It

Brining in Wheeler will almost certainly push the Yankees payroll to a higher luxury tax. For most pitchers, moving from the NL to the AL historically leads to a rise in ERA especially in the AL East ballparks. While Wheeler has been a solid pitcher, he certainly wouldn’t be considered a star, and would better profile as a number three.

If the Phillies push for better Yankees prospects AND covering Wheeler’s salary, they might be better off just signing Bauer, Tanaka or Paxton. Bringing in a free agent will be pricy, but Bauer better profiles as a dominant number 2 and Paxton or Tanaka will help save prospects.

Final Thoughts

If the Phillies are serious about moving Wheeler the Yankees should strongly consider bringing him back to New York. While Wheeler is signed to a relatively expensive deal, the Yankees should be able to afford 4 years at $24 million a year. If the Yankees are able to get a deal done with Stanton-level prospects it can immediately help the team compete during Cole’s prime years.

If the Phillies want top prospects and for the Yankees to cover the contract, the Yankees should instead pivot to the free agent market. While Wheeler is a really good pitcher, he is not quite the top tier type that would warrant trading top prospects for.