Jeremy Hellickson may be pricing himself out of the Phillies' range.
Hellickson, a free agent after the season, made his best start as a Phillie on Saturday, pitching a three-hit shutout in an 8-0 win over the Marlins.
The gem improved Hellickson to 12-9 with a 3.57 ERA in 30 starts ... 30 of the best starts of his career. Hellickson's walk rate (2.1 per nine) is the lowest it's ever been, his changeup is the best it's ever been, and most importantly he's been a consistent workhorse for a team that badly needed innings.
The free-agent starting pitching class this winter is as thin as it gets. Rich Hill will be atop many teams' wish lists, but he's a significant injury risk. After Hill, Hellickson is probably the next best option on the market.
Some team in need of a No. 3 starter is likely going to pony up and offer Hellickson a three- or four-year deal worth at least $12 million annually. The Phillies, after keeping Hellickson at the trade deadline, will surely extend him the qualifying offer, a one-year deal that would be worth around $17 million. If Hellickson accepts, the Phils have him for another year, albeit at a high price. They can afford it. If he declines, they'll receive draft-pick compensation in between Rounds 1 and 2 when he signs elsewhere.
In a way, it's a win-win situation for the Phillies, so long as they believe Hellickson's 2016 progress is real.
"He's been outstanding for us all year," manager Pete Mackanin said after Hellickson dominated the Marlins yet again. Hellickson went 3-1 with a 2.01 ERA against Miami in six meetings, walking just three batters in 38⅓ innings. "Great guy, good worker, very focused."
Mackanin pointed out the number of changeups Hellickson threw against the Fish. The manager guessed 40. The actual number was 34 — 23 of which were strikes and 11 of which were swinging strikes. Hellickson has kept hitters off balance all season with his changeup, limiting them to a .174 batting average entering Saturday. That number's dropped even lower.
It's not an exaggeration to say Hellickson has taken his game to another level this season. He's been more durable, less homer-prone, less fastball-reliant and more efficient. He's pitched 35 more innings than last season and has one fewer walk.
"I've felt good every time out," Hellickson said. "Felt good in between starts. I'm recovering like I was early in my career."
Early in his career, Hellickson was a highly-touted young right-hander. He met expectations by winning AL Rookie of the Year with Tampa Bay in 2011, and the next year he nearly matched that success. Then came three down years, and the Phillies acquired Hellickson this past offseason from the Diamondbacks for a low-level minor-leaguer when his value was at an all-time low.
Hellickson's rookie year was actually the only other time he's pitched a shutout. Was so long ago that Vladimir Guerrero was in the opposing lineup. Hellickson had gone 136 starts without a complete game before Saturday, a fact that was not lost on him.
"I definitely knew when the last time was," he said. "It's been a long time."
He'll have two more starts this season with the Phillies, and then he'll either return for more in 2017 or land a nice payday in another city.