3 agonizing free-agent destinations for Aaron Nola that would haunt Phillies fans

If the Phillies aren't able to re-sign Nola, here are a few landing spots that could prove to be trouble for Philadelphia.
Philadelphia Phillies vs. Arizona Diamondbacks - NLCS Game 6
Philadelphia Phillies vs. Arizona Diamondbacks - NLCS Game 6 / Elsa/GettyImages
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Atlanta Braves

After nine years of having Nola on the team, it would admittedly be hard to see him suit up for a division rival, as already noted. But if that division rival happens to be the Atlanta Braves? Devastating.

Atlanta finished the 2023 season at 104-58 before being bounced by the Phillies in the National League Division Series for the second straight year.

This move would be a double whammy because not only would the Phillies need to face Nola, but they'd also be missing the benefits of Nola's strong stats against Atlanta.

In the regular season, Nola has faced Atlanta 33 times in his career. In those appearances, he went 15-10 with a 3.40 ERA, 57 walks and 203 strikeouts in 206 2/3 innings. In two postseason starts, both coming the past two years, he was 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA, three walks, and 15 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings.

In the 2023 National League Division Series, Nola took the mound for Game 3, giving up two earned runs and logging nine punchouts in 5 2/3 innings in an eventual 10-2 win for the home team.

Having won its sixth straight NL East division crown this year, Atlanta has consistently been one of the best teams in baseball during that time, winning the World Series in 2021. It wouldn't be a stretch if Nola saw the Phillies' division foe as a viable option to chase a ring.

In 2023, Atlanta's starting pitching staff was hit with some injuries, finishing with a team ERA of 4.36. Atlanta's rotation logged the 12th-most innings pitched at 852, a number Nola can help boost with his durability. Four of Atlanta's main starters ended the year with an ERA of 3.86 or lower: Spencer Strider (3.86), Max Fried (2.55), Charlie Morton (3.64), and Bryce Elder (3.81).

Things with the pitching staff went a bit sideways late in the season, though.

After the All-Star break, Atlanta's starters carried an ERA of 5.10, tied for 24th-worst in the league, according to FanGraphs. And that carried into the playoffs, where the starters put up a 6.05 ERA against the Phillies.

The biggest stumbling block to this possibility could be the tight purse strings from general manager Alex Anthopoulos. Historically, Atlanta hasn't been inclined to give out lucrative contracts, and Nola is expected to land a big deal. In 2023, only one player on the team — first baseman Matt Olson — made more than $20 million.

However, with the second consecutive early exit from the playoffs at the hands of the Phillies, the team could have a move up its sleeve.

And considering things got a bit tense between fans/mascots and players during the NLDS, it would be hard to stomach a former homegrown talent taking the mound for the opposing team.

Like with the Mets, there's no avoiding Atlanta. The two teams will face off 13 times next year, starting with the Phillies welcoming Atlanta to town on March 28 to open the 2024 season. Given the option, the Phillies would rather Nola be in their dugout, not Atlanta's.

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