CLEARWATER, Fla. — Zack Wheeler gave the Mets a chance. Their answer — or lack thereof — will play out in NL East battles for years to come.
The new Phillies right-hander said he talked to the Mets early on in his free agency and both sides agreed to circle back at the end before Wheeler signed anywhere. There was reported interest from the White Sox, Twins and Rangers, but it was the Phillies who stepped up and offered Wheeler a five-year, $118 million contract.
Before signing in Philadelphia, though, Wheeler circled back with the Mets.
“It was basically just crickets when I did,” Wheeler told The Post Thursday.
But Wheeler wasn’t surprised.
“Because it’s them,” he said. “It’s how they roll.”
Wheeler wanted to make it clear he was not sour about how it all played out. He enjoyed his time as a Met, he said, and was thankful for the opportunities the organization gave him. But the only thing they offered him after last season was a $17.8 million qualifying offer.
“Obviously everything starts at the top and it filters down,” Wheeler said. “Whether it be somebody’s fault or not, it starts at the top and goes down. Maybe the top gives them the OK but lower down they don’t want to do something. Or maybe up top, they don’t give you the opportunity to do something but everybody else wants to do it. That’s kind of how it was there at certain points. Everything was kind of jumpy because certain people would want something, others wouldn’t. I don’t think everyone was on the same page.”
After Wheeler became a Phillie, the Mets signed starters Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha for a combined $13 million. That came after they seemed to prepare for Wheeler’s departure by trading for Marcus Stroman last season. But they will find out first-hand whether Wheeler was worth the big money, which ended up being the fourth-largest contract of the offseason, trailing only Gerrit Cole (nine years, $324 million), Stephen Strasburg (seven years, $245 million) and Anthony Rendon (seven years, $245 million).
The 29-year-old Wheeler, who had been in the Mets organization since 2011, got healthy and consistent at the perfect time. In his final two seasons before becoming a free agent, he posted a 3.65 ERA with 374 strikeouts and 105 walks across 60 starts.
General manager Brodie Van Wagenen admitted, after Wheeler signed, that “the projections we had for Zack — both short-term and long-term — didn’t quite match up to the market he was able to enjoy.”
The Phillies, meanwhile, valued Wheeler much differently.
“In our judgment, adding someone to the front of the rotation was something that was the biggest priority for us,” GM Matt Klentak said Thursday. “… That’s why we targeted Zack Wheeler as we did.”
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