Aaron Nola’s $16M option was exercised, but the Phillies ace nears free agency.
Recent contracts may suggest that the market for starting pitching is thin — causing teams to overpay for pitching depth. If the Philadelphia Phillies want to avoid overpaying for starting pitching in 2024 and beyond, they should lock up Aaron Nola sooner rather than later.
Some notable, recently signed starters include Mike Clevinger, Matthew Boyd, and Zach Eflin. While all have experienced big-league success, they also have their share of risks:
- Clevinger pitched with the San Diego Padres in 2022 after battling arm injuries the previous few seasons. The 31-year-old had a lackluster 4.33 ERA last year, yet received a one-year, $12 million deal from the Chicago White Sox. He also hasn’t thrown more than 200 innings since 2018.
- Boyd has been less consistent than Clevinger, pitching fewer than 80 innings in his past three seasons. In 2022, Boyd threw just 13 1/3 innings. The left-hander also has a career 4.90 ERA. The Detroit Tigers gave him a one-year, $10 million deal.
- The Tampa Bay Rays signed longtime Phillies pitcher — Zach Eflin — on Thursday to a three-year, $40 million contract, the largest in the franchise’s history. Eflin has shown flashes of potential, but his biggest issue has always been an inability to stay healthy.
This brings us to the case of signing Nola before he hits free agency after the 2023 season. Considering the aforementioned pitchers — with histories of injuries and inconsistent results — are picking up contracts of $10 million a year or more, a pitcher of Nola’s caliber will command a much larger contract.
Overall, Nola has been a top-10 National League pitcher for the last few years, and he finished fourth in Cy Young voting this season — ranking third in strikeouts and fourth in WHIP in the National League. According to Baseball-Reference, Nola also led the Phillies’ all-time pitching in K/9 in the shortened 2020 season. He topped all Phillies pitching in team history in K/BB in 2022.
Nola’s career has been scrutinized for lacking success in big-game situations. He put that to rest at the end of last season and postseason — with the exception of his World Series starts. People can say what they want, but Nola has been an effective pitcher since joining the Phillies rotation in 2015. It is time to sign him long-term.
The old Phillies’ old ways of signing quality starting pitchers to three-year deals are probably gone, so the organization will probably have to look at a Zack Wheeler-length contract of four or five years. The way the starting pitching market is inflating, it will likely take an average annual contract of $20 million or more to sign Nola long-term. He would surely get more than that on the open market.