Angels GM Billy Eppler recalls how badly they wanted Zack Wheeler before Phillies signed him


Zack Wheeler was a hot commodity this past offseason. Every team in baseball could use another starting pitcher with No. 1 potential who has gone on ace-like runs and has a No. 3 floor.

Wheeler’s market realistically involved more teams than even Gerrit Cole’s. Not because Wheeler is better but because so many teams were immediately priced out of the market for Cole, who ended up with the Yankees on a nine-year, $324 million deal. 

Wheeler was the next best option and it wasn’t a certainty that he’d land a $100 million deal. He did, largely because of his talent but also because of supply and demand. Teams like the Twins that don’t often spend were in on Wheeler. Teams just on the other side of rebuilds like the Phillies and White Sox wanted him. 

The Angels, desperate for pitching and long believed to be a destination for Cole, wanted Wheeler bad. They couldn’t afford to finish second on both free-agent pitchers and risk wasting another year of Mike Trout’s prime. They did, missing out on Wheeler and Cole within the span of a week. 

“We pursued Wheeler pretty aggressively,” Angels GM Billy Eppler said of Wheeler in a fan Q&A posted by the Orange County Register

“A couple days before Thanksgiving, (manager Joe) Maddon, myself and (team president John) Carpino got on a plane and flew to Atlanta to meet with Zack Wheeler. We pursued Wheeler pretty aggressively. Ultimately, he and his wife expressed a desire to remain a little closer to the East Coast.”

Wheeler is a Georgia native who had not spent a season away from the East Coast since 2013 when he was at Triple A Las Vegas in the Mets’ system.

The Phillies signed Wheeler in early December to a five-year contract worth $118 million. Unfortunately for them, it looks like the first-year return on that contract will be incomplete. The Angels pivoted and signed Anthony Rendon, whose departure from the division was celebrated by NL East pitchers, pitching coaches and managers alike.

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