The Phillies and right-hander Aaron Nola have both made clear a desire to see the righty ace return to Philadelphia on a long-term deal this offseason, dating back to before Nola was even officially a free agent. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale indicated this morning that there’s reason for optimism regarding a deal coming together between the two sides, noting that contract talks between the sides have “gained significant momentum” in recent days.
That, of course, doesn’t mean that an agreement between the two sides is imminent or even necessarily close, but it’s a notable development nonetheless. After all, it was just last week that reporting from MLB Network’s Jon Morosi indicated the sides were “not at all close” to a new deal while The Athletic’s Jayson Stark suggested that Phillies may not “go all out” to retain Nola, adding that interest from rival clubs made a seventh year on Nola’s contract possible. That’s a level the Phillies reportedly weren’t willing to go to in extension talks last spring, though it’s possible that the club has changed its tune since then.
Nightengale’s report goes on to suggest that Nola’s camp is seeking a seven-year, $210MM deal while the Phillies have countered with a six-year, $150MM offer at this point. Those price points are substantially closer than the four-to-five year pact that the Phillies reportedly offered Nola last offseason and the eight-year counter from Nola’s camp. That apparent progress in reaching a deal appears all the more encouraging with Nightengale suggesting that the sides are “getting close to finding a middle ground” between the two figures.
With one year and $60MM separating the two offers, there’s plenty of room for the sides to meet somewhere in the middle. Of note, the Phillies’ reported offer to Nola comes in just $12MM under the total guarantee left-hander Carlos Rodon secured from the Yankees last offseason over the same term, meaning virtually any movement from Philadelphia would allow Nola to secure a guarantee above that of Rodon. Speculatively speaking, the Phillies could offer Nola a higher AAV than Rodon over the same term if they’re unwilling to offer a seven-year deal to Nola, who will celebrate his 31st birthday next summer. Such a deal could fall in the $168MM to $180MM range in terms of total guarantee.
A seven-year pact would see Nola turn 37 in the final year of the deal. That’s an age the Phillies have shown a willingness to sign position players through: superstar first baseman Bryce Harper and marquee shortstop Trea Turner are signed through their age-38 and -40 seasons, respectively. That being said, the club hasn’t shown the same appetite for deals that would take pitchers into their late thirties. Zack Wheeler signed with the club on a five-year deal to become Nola’s co-ace in the Phillies rotation, though that deal will see him hit the open market next offseason following his age-34 campaign. That’s the same age former Phillies lefty Cole Hamels was signed through when he extended with the club back in 2012.
Even a six-year pact would be breaking new ground for the Phillies; while the club signed Hall of Famer Roy Halladay through his age-36 season, that deal was for just three years and $60MM. That’s a far cry from the nine-figure deal Nola figures to land. What’s more, any movement from the Phillies’ current price point of six years and $150MM would take Nola’s contract above what MLBTR projected for the right-hander in our annual Top 50 free agents list.
Despite all of this, it’s easy to see why the Phillies would make such a plunge to retain Nola’s services. Nola’s spent nine years with the club serving as a homegrown ace since his debut with the club back in 2015. In that time, he’s compiled a career 3.72 ERA (113 ERA+) and 3.38 FIP with a 27.2% strikeout rate. Since his breakout 2018 campaign where he earned his first career All Star appearance and finished third in NL Cy Young award voting, Nola has been even more impressive with a 3.65 ERA and 28% strikeout rate. On top of that quality production, Nola is among the most durable pitchers in the entire sport: he’s thrown more than 180 innings and made at least 32 starts in each of the last five 162-game seasons. Only Yankees ace Gerrit Cole has thrown more innings since the start of the 2018 campaign, while only Cole, Wheeler, Max Scherzer, and Jacob deGrom have accumulated more fWAR than Nola’s 25.5 figure since then.
Should Nola and the Phillies ultimately come together on a new contract, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has previously indicated that the club’s starting rotation will be set for the 2024 campaign, likely taking Philadelphia out of the rotation market for the rest of the offseason. If a deal between the sides doesn’t get done, however, the club figures to be aggressive in looking to replace Nola with NPB star Yoshinobu Yamamoto among the club’s reported hypothetical targets. Jordan Montgomery, Blake Snell, and Sonny Gray are among the other potential top-of-the-rotation arms to be had on the free agent market, though Stark reports the club is “lukewarm” on Snell. The trade market could hold other alternatives to Nola for the Phils, such as Brewers ace Corbin Burnes or White Sox righty Dylan Cease.