Middleton Angrily Denies Report Phillies May Trade Wheeler
Sunday morning, ESPN's Buster Olney reported that the Phillies were willing to listen to trade offers for starting pitcher Zack Wheeler. Wheeler, just signed a year ago by the Phillies to a five-year, $118 million deal, pitched well in his only season with the Phillies. So it seemed odd that the Phillies, should they be trying to win in 2021, would trade Wheeler. The report got the attention of the managing partner of the Phillies, John Middleton, who offered an angry reply.
Middleton reached out almost immediately to Olney, who filed the initial report. He said the Phillies would not trade Wheeler even for Babe Ruth:
"If they offered me Babe Ruth, I wouldn't trade him," John Middleton said angrily in a phone conversation, adding Ted Williams and Mike Schmidt to Ruth's name for good measure. "I have authorized no one to have a conversation about trading him...They're lying to you."
During the winter meetings much can happen, including a mention being overblown.
Say executive X calls Phillies interim general manager Ned Rice. "What do you have for trade?" Rice could say, "Well, you tell me what you have an interest in". Executive X names Wheeler. Rice says, "Oh yeah? What you willing to give up for him?" knowing full-well the Phillies have no desire to trade him.
Every once in a while the person on the other side has something ridiculous to offer.
So should the Phillies take such a call, they're just doing due diligence. Who knows: maybe an executive called the Phillies, Rice listened, and they perceived the listening to be a "willingness".
The fact that this rumor got so much attention is that the Phillies fanbase is increasingly frustrated at the club. ESPN last week called the 2015-2020 seasons of the Phillies a "botched rebuild", that has not led to a playoff appearance but instead the departure of general manager Matt Klentak. The Phillies are being very slow to add a new front office executive in the middle of reports that the Phillies reduced their workforce by about 18% and that the Phillies will be reducing payroll in 2021.
Phillies fans are skeptical, to say the least. Though Middleton squashed this rumor, it may not be enough to have the fanbase thinking positively this offseason. The Phillies could surprise fans, I suppose, and excite them about their roster construction for 2021. But without an executive in charge, Middleton can expect more reports such as this one, and more skepticism from fans.