Tim Ryder of MMO reported over the weekend that the White Sox were the highest bidders among teams interested in signing Wheeler.
However, as detailed by Vinnie Duber of NBC Sports Chicago, Rick Hahn previously seemed to intimate some pause of going the extra mile to sign big free agents this offseason when speaking at the GM Meetings.
"“With all these moves, free-agent moves, specifically with pitching, it’s going to come down to pricing and what’s accessible and what’s the price and what level of risk we’re willing to bear,” Hahn said. “There’s a heightened level of risk with free-agent starting-pitching signings. It’s just the nature of the category.”"
That being said, actions speak louder than words during the offseason and the fact that they were said to be the highest bidder for Wheeler is a very good sign in terms of actually acquiring him.
According to Jon Morosi of MLB.com, the team has some tough competition, though, as the Los Angeles Angels, Minnesota Twins, and San Diego Padres are all considered to be part of “the leading group” for Wheeler right now.
That leaves out the team he has spent his entire MLB career with, the New York Mets, on the outside looking in. Jon Heyman of MLB Network says that Wheeler plans to “circle back” to the Mets after sifting through all of his options, though.
So among the teams, I surmise that this bidding war for Wheeler’s services will come down to a division rivalry between the Twins and White Sox.
The Angels appear dead-set on signing Gerrit Cole and even if Wheeler is their fallback option, the latter probably won’t be available anymore once Cole eventually does sign with a team.
As noted by Morosi, it now appears almost certain that Wheeler will sign before Cole and it’s even possible he does so before Stephen Strasburg, who has been negotiating a contract to stay with the Washington Nationals.
So, that eliminates the Angels in all likelihood. Then comes the Padres who definitely have interest in Wheeler. That being said, after spending big money on Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado in consecutive offseasons, they might not want to give out another big contract.
Of the teams not named the White Sox or Twins, the Mets probably remain the biggest threat given his clear interest in returning to the team in 2020.
However, if they decide not to exceed the luxury tax next season, they simply won’t be able to afford Wheeler.
Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors projected that Wheeler would receive a five-year, $100 million contract this offseason.
If that’s the case, Wheeler will be making $20 million per year which alone would exceed the remaining money the Mets would have before exceeding the luxury tax as they are currently around $17 million below it.
Sure, they could trade a player making $3 million or more away to make room for him, but the team still has multiple holes to fill before the season and would be severely compromised if they re-signed Wheeler and weren’t willing to exceed the luxury tax threshold.
That leaves the Twins and White Sox, assuming the New York Yankees or Houston Astros don’t jump into the top-tier of his market which is possible. It is not necessarily likely that will happen with Cole and Strasburg still on the board.
Having two division rivals bidding for a player’s services is an agent’s dream as they look to squeeze out as much money as possible for the respective client.
It really could come down to the wire between these two, but if I had to guess, I’d bet the White Sox end up signing him.
The Twins aren’t as antsy to spend as the White Sox are given that they just won the AL Central with ease in 2019.
In essence, there’s a good shot that if the White Sox have truly set their sights on Zack Wheeler, that he’ll be pitching in the south side of Chicago come next season.