Aaron Nola established himself as a top-tier pitcher this season, could the Phillies reward him with a long-term extension this offseason?
The Phillies desperately need to find consistency in the starting rotation this offseason. In 2017, their collective 4.80 ERA ranked 21st and their 4.82 fielding-independent pitching was 22nd overall. Eleven different pitchers started for the team this year as injuries decimated the rotation.
However, one pitcher did provide consistency this year: Aaron Nola. He led the team with 27 starts and 168 innings pitched. What he did in those 27 starts was among the best in baseball.
Nola finished the season with a 3.54 ERA, 3.27 FIP, 3.76 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and 1.21 WHIP. His 4.3 fWAR ranked 12th among all qualified pitchers. His 73 FIP- was ninth overall, and his 26.6 percent strikeout rate ranked 14th.
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Nola is easily the best Phillies pitcher since Cole Hamels was traded. Nola’s FIP was the lowest of any qualified Phillie pitcher since Hamels in 2014. Nola’s strikeout rate this year was the highest since Curt Schilling in 1998. To be in the same category as those two pitchers should give you an indication of just how effective Nola was this year.
After coming off a strong season, the time may be now to sign Nola to a long-term extension.
He is slated for arbitration after next season, and an extension now could avoid that process. It could also keep him in Philadelphia beyond the 2021 season, when Nola is set to become a free agent.
A deal for Nola would likely resemble the one that Odubel Herrera signed last offseason. Herrera is set to make $30.5 million over the course of the five-year extension, and could be in line for even more money with two option years for the 2022 and 2023 season.
The last pitcher to sign a pre-arbitration extension was Indians ace Corey Kluber. Cleveland signed Kluber for five years (plus two option years) for $38.5 million. That contract is an absolute bargain considering he has been in the Cy Young conversation every year since winning in 2014 and may win it again this season.
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On the other hand, the team may decide to wait before extending Nola. He is just a year removed from a season-ending elbow injury that put his 2017 season in serious doubt. Nola did make mechanical adjustments that lessened the impact on his elbow, but it will loom over his head for quite some time.
This was also the first time Nola was an upper-level pitcher for an entire season. He was strong in 2015, but only made 10 starts. Last year, Nola started the year off well before completely falling off performance-wise before being injured. 2017 was the first year Nola was able to fully sustain his performance.
Herrera produced at a four-win level for two years before receiving his extension, and Nola may have to do the same thing. There is no reason to think he can’t, but patience is always key with pitchers.
Regardless, Nola doesn’t seem too concerned about getting a deal done right now: [quote via Matt Gelb of Philly.com]
"“To be honest,” he said, “I haven’t thought about that. I’m just trying to stay healthy and go into spring training working on the things I need to work on. You know?”"
It’s good to know Nola is more concerned about baseball than getting paid, but at some point a deal will have to be struck, and that time could be this offseason.