Should the Philadelphia Phillies trade the struggling Aaron Nola this offseason?
In addition to totally revamping their bullpen, the Phillies will have a few decisions to make regarding their starting rotation this offseason.
Namely, should they trade Aaron Nola?
Is this question a knee-jerk reaction to the fact that Nola put the Phillies in a 6-0 hole against the last-place Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday night? Maybe a little. The Phillies came back to win 12-6, but that was in spite of Nola, which is never how you want to describe a victory.
Really, it’s an assessment of a season that has ranged from mediocre to abysmal, with a few solid starts sprinkled in like croutons on a salad. Remember the time he matched Tom Seaver’s record against Seaver’s own team? That was fun.
But overall, Nola has not performed to the standard of a marquee starting pitcher. He has allowed three or more earned runs in 18 of 31 stars; four times, he’s allowed six or more. The Phillies have actually managed to win three of those four games, including this most recent start. Through three innings in Thursday’s game, Nola had risen his season ERA from 4.48 to 4.72 by allowing a two-run single, three-run homer, and a solo home run. His career-worst ERA was 4.78 in 2016.
Nola’s night ended with a 4.64 ERA due to him settling down and pitching three scoreless innings. But for the first full season since 2017, he won’t throw 200-plus innings, and his inability to go deep into games hurt the Phillies, who didn’t have a solid bullpen to supplement his early exits. He pitched five innings or less in 13 starts, and did not reach five full innings in seven.
Poor pitching is keeping the Phillies out of the postseason again
The Phillies have an above-.500 record for the first time since 2011, but shaky starting pitching and a bullpen that leads MLB in blown saves are keeping them from being true contenders.
This is Nola’s seventh season in the bigs, and he has spent all of them with the Phillies, who drafted the Louisiana native in the first round of the 2014 June draft. He made his debut in late July 2015, when he was only 22 years old.
Between 2017-2019, Nola had a 3.23 ERA over 94 starts, with 637 strikeouts over 582 2/3 innings. He was solid during the pandemic-shortened season, too; a 3.28 ERA over 12 starts, including two complete games. His poor pitching could be a result of the strain of going from a 60-game season back to a 162-game season; he had a 3.84 ERA over his first 12 starts this year, not too far off his 2020 numbers.
Regardless, the Phillies will have a choice to make. They can trade Nola now while he still has value and the chance for a bounce-back season in 2022, or they can wait and see how he does in spring training and the early months of next season and hope that he bounces back here. The risk is that if they keep him and he struggles, then they will attempt to trade him and other teams will offer less, as his value will have decreased.
Nola is one of the Phillies’ more significant problems, because he should be a significant part of this team’s success, and instead, is yet another roadblock they’ve had to work around. The Phillies should and probably are considering trading him this winter.