Aaron Nola among MLB's best bargains, and here's what next deal could look like

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Aaron Nola among MLB's best bargains, and here's what next deal could look like

Would you believe that only two players in MLB have been a better bargain in 2018 than Aaron Nola?

Spotrac, the well-known contracts website, put out its list of baseball's best values so far this season and Nola ranks No. 1 among all starting pitchers.

He also ranks No. 3 among all players, behind only Boston's Mookie Betts and Cleveland's Jose Ramirez.

Nola made his first All-Star team by going 12-3 with a 2.30 ERA in his first 20 starts. He leads the NL in wins, has the lowest home run rate in the league, ranks second in innings and ERA, third in WHIP and fourth in strikeouts. 

He has legitimately pitched like a Cy Young-winner with nearly 60 percent of the season in the books.

At some point soon, the conversation will shift toward a long-term extension. Nola is set to go through the arbitration process for the first time this winter and cannot become a free agent until after the 2021 season.

This is the last season Nola will be this drastically underpaid relative to his performance. The Phils could explore a contract that buys out his three arbitration years and the first two or three free-agent years. They did this with Odubel Herrera. 

League-wide, teams routinely do this with star players in order to save some money in those first couple post-arbitration years. Players, especially pitchers, value the long-term security because of the frequency of long-term arm injuries.

How much money are we talking? The Braves, in a similar position with Freddie Freeman before his first arbitration year, signed him to an eight-year, $135 million deal. It made sense for Freeman because it's life-changing money, and it made sense for the Braves because they got his first five post-arbitration years for an average of $21.3 million per year. That's a team-friendly deal for a perennial MVP candidate like Freeman.

The Cardinals, in the same spot with Carlos Martinez, struck a five-year, $51 million contract. It's a good deal for the Cards because they get Martinez's first two post-arb years for $23 million and hold club options for $17 million and $18 million the following two years.

That Martinez contract seems like more of a template for Nola than the Freeman megadeal, but Nola is a better and more accomplished pitcher than Martinez. If his extension has the same length as Martinez's, one would think it would be closer to $70 million than $50 million.

Regardless, Nola's cost-effectiveness is a major reason the Phillies are in first place at the All-Star break with a real chance to add top talent by the trade deadline and/or this offseason. If Nola was already making $25 million per year, the Phillies' spending options wouldn't be as seemingly limitless as they are right now.

A long-term extension with Nola would have obvious benefits to the Phils because it could allow them to save some money in 2022 and 2023, when more of their young players will have richer deals and the payroll will be more of a concern.

More on the Phillies

Winter meetings complete, what’s next for Phillies?

Winter meetings complete, what’s next for Phillies?

SAN DIEGO — A year ago, Phillies officials left the winter meetings with much of their offseason work still in front of them.
Manny Machado was still a front-burner free-agent item. Bryce Harper was still in the background and J.T. Realmuto was headed to Atlanta, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, New York … anywhere but Philadelphia.
You know the rest of the story.
Spring training had already begun by the time the Phillies settled their offseason last year. A year later, Phillies officials departed the winter meetings on Thursday with their heavy offseason lifting complete.

The Phils signed free-agent pitcher Zack Wheeler to a five-year, $118 million contract last week and free-agent shortstop Didi Gregorius to a one-year, $14 million deal at the meetings this week. The signings left the Phils about $5 million under the $208 million luxury-tax threshold for the coming season and the club will be mindful of that. It’s likely — though not certain — that any further moves the Phillies make will qualify as tweaks.
Here are a few things to keep an eye on over the remainder of the offseason.

The starting rotation

Aaron Nola and Wheeler give the Phillies a “1 and a 1-A,” as manager Joe Girardi said.

Jake Arrieta is healthy and will be ready to go Day 1 of camp and Zach Eflin will hold down a job. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez are slated to battle for the fifth job, though it would not be surprising to see the Phils bring back Drew Smyly on a minor-league deal to join the fight. The Phils were keeping an eye on Rick Porcello to see where his market was headed, but he signed for one year and $10 million with the Mets. Lefty Wade Miley could be someone to keep an eye on, depending where his market goes. The Phils are committed to having top prospect Spencer Howard start the season in Triple A, but he could have a major impact as the season goes on. The Phils will watch Howard’s workload — because of injury, he pitched under 100 innings last year — so adding bargain depth is a must.

The bullpen

At the moment, it looks like a fairly unchanged unit. The Phils are banking on Adam Morgan and Seranthony Dominguez being healthy again and Hector Neris, Jose Alvarez and Ranger Suarez carrying a heavy load again. Pivetta, Velasquez or both could be used in the ‘pen, depending on the depth that is added in the rotation. If the Phils want to push the tax, they could make a play for former Yankee Dellin Betances. Someone from the system like Garrett Cleavinger or Connor Brogdon could surprise in spring training. How about Tommy Hunter? The Phils put a lot of time into his rehab after elbow surgery last year. Could he be a fit on a bargain deal? Ditto for Jared Hughes and Mike Morin.

The bench

Former All-Star and .300 hitter Josh Harrison has been signed on a minor-league deal. He can play anywhere and figures to have a good chance to make the club. Phil Gosselin, another jack of all trades, is coming back on a minor-league deal and the team has shown some interest in free agent Matt Szczur. Brad Miller remains a free agent and a potentially good fit. Jay Bruce will add power off the bench. Andrew Knapp returns as backup catcher but it would not be surprising to see the Phils sign one or two more veteran catchers to push for work and add depth. Remember, Girardi has said he’d like to keep Realmuto to between 120 and 130 games so he is fresh in October. “That’s where the prize is,” Girardi said. Austin Romine would have been a nice fit, but he signed with Detroit. 


While it appears as if most of the team’s major moves are done, general manager Matt Klentak and his group will continue to stay engaged on the trade front and you never know if one could materialize. Nick Williams could be dealt. Miami has long liked him. Velasquez could be dealt for some salary relief, particularly if the Phils are able to add starting pitching depth. The Phils would surely listen on Jean Segura, but he has three years and $45 million left on his deal so that would not be easy.
Could the Phils make a major trade?
After seeing the Realmuto deal come together so quickly last February, it can’t be ruled out. Even something crazy is possible. By crazy we mean Kris Bryant. Yes, he’d be a nice fit as the Phils make a quick push at a title before he becomes a free agent. But it’s a real long shot and it would probably cost top prospect Alec Bohm, and it would definitely push the Phillies over the luxury tax threshold, though managing partner John Middleton has said he would go over it for the right championship-caliber opportunity. Maybe that’s Bryant. There will continue to be buzz about him and the Phillies will continue to be connected to him as long as there is.
J.A. Happ could be another guy to watch on the trade front. The Phils made him an offer last winter and he signed with the Yankees. The Yanks are now eager to move his $17 million salary and might attach a good prospect to the package to help make the deal. Happ would put the Phillies over the tax, but, given the Phils’ need for more pitching, it might it be worth rolling the dice on the left-hander having a bounce-back year if and only if the Yanks attach a good prospect or two to the deal. 

What about Herrera?

The end of the winter meetings begins to put spring training in focus and the Phillies have a big decision to make before then: Do they bring Odubel Herrera to camp? Do they release him? The Phils would eat most of his salary to trade him, but there has been no interest.
We dealt with the Herrera situation more deeply in this story.

Realmuto's extension

Sometime before spring training, the Phils are expected to pursue a contract extension with Realmuto.

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More on the Phillies

At the Yard podcast: Ken Rosenthal joins to talk Phillies, Kris Bryant, Anthoy Rendon


At the Yard podcast: Ken Rosenthal joins to talk Phillies, Kris Bryant, Anthoy Rendon

Jim Salisbury and Corey Seidman are joined by special guest Ken Rosenthal to talk Phillies and wrap up the Winter Meetings on the At the Yard podcast.

• Ken and Jim on the crazy week it was in San Diego

• Could we soon see a $500 million contract?

• Fallout of Rendon choosing the Angels

• Ken Rosenthal's thoughts on Phillies' offseason so far

• Phils have added more than Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorius

• What's next for Phils with Winter Meetings in the rearview?

Subscribe and rate At The Yard:
Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify / Stitcher / Art19