It may not seem like it now, but Dave Dombrowski wasn’t sure when the offseason began that the Phillies would be able to lock up Aaron Nola long-term, much less find common ground on a contract on Nov. 19, five days before Thanksgiving. and two weeks before the MLB Winter Meetings.
Hopeful? Yes. Convinced? No.
“I had no confidence,” the Phillies’ president of baseball operations said Monday afternoon at a news conference to announce Nola’s new seven-year, $172 million contract.
“Even though I knew Aaron loved it here, any time someone hits free agency, you never know what could happen. So no, I wasn’t confident in any way. I was hopeful and I thought it would be a great decision to make.” it worked”. for all.”
Teams were coming down hard on Nola, with the Braves and Dodgers reportedly making similar offers to the Phillies, while the Cardinals also reached out to Nola’s camp and the Red Sox were believed to be on the prowl as well. Everyone needs a starting pitcher. Nola was one of the top three weapons on the free agent market. The list of suitors would have only grown.
Just after the season ended, Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos made it clear that Atlanta’s payroll would increase and that starting pitching was a target. In recent days, the Braves cleared spots on the 40-man roster by trading right-hander Kyle Wright to the Royals and non-tendering seven players, the most of any team.
“It was very important that we keep him to ourselves, but I sure wouldn’t have wanted him to go to Atlanta, someone who’s in your own division,” Dombrowski said. “There were other clubs interested in him too, there were a lot of them. I wouldn’t have expected to have a pitcher of his ilk in front of us.”
Nola could have potentially found more money elsewhere, whether in average annual salary, total value or both, but that wasn’t the only factor for the Louisiana boy who adjusted to the Northeast, got married and made a home away from home during the last decade. .
“I always wanted to be a Phillie, I’ve always been a Phillie. This is the only place we had our eyes on,” he said. “It was the most comfortable place for me. Everyone in this organization has been very committed to winning, very committed to the players. The relationships I’ve built are going to last a lifetime. I feel like it would be hard to walk away.” of those people.
“For me it’s not really about the money, it’s about being in a place that we want to be for the next seven years. That part is more important to me, the relationships and the memories that I have created here and that we have created as a team. That trumps (money).”
Relationships notwithstanding, seven years and $172 million is still a ton of money, more years and dollars than the Phillies have ever given to a pitcher. There is a high probability that Nola will suffer an injury at some point during the life of the contract, it is simply the reality of throwing so many pitches year after year. He leads the National League in innings since 2018 and hasn’t missed a start in six seasons. The Phillies will keep their fingers crossed that Nola remains as durable, but paying any pitcher this kind of money is a risk. It would have been a risk with Nola, Blake Snell, Sonny Gray, Yoshinobu Yamamoto or any arm the Phillies could have traded for.
“When you evaluate these types of things, you have to start with composition, and I don’t know if anyone in the game has better composition than Aaron Nola,” general manager Sam Fuld said.
One of the most important pieces of the Phillies’ success in 2022 and 2023 was the health of Zack Wheeler and Nola, the two best workhorses in the National League. Father Time comes for all pitchers and the decline is not always gradual. Sometimes it’s sudden, as it was for Roy Halladay, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and James Shields in recent years, just to name a few.
There’s no way to guarantee health, but both Nola and Dombrowski spoke Monday about the value of Nola simply regressing at times.
“I definitely thought about that and I hope to age well, for sure,” Nola said. “I’m going to do everything I can to stay durable. I feel like I have some ways to get healthy and stay healthy, but it’s all about what I need to do and No I need to do. If I am too tired, there is no longer anything fixed that I need to do every day. I learned early in my career that that doesn’t work for me. Finding my routine early in my career has helped me a lot.”
Nola’s contract runs through 2030, the year before Bryce Harper’s expires. The Phillies now have seven players making at least $20 million a year and Taijuan Walker isn’t far behind at $18 million a year.
A lot of the equipment is in place. The rotation is set one through five with Wheeler, Nola, Ranger Suárez, Walker and Cristopher Sánchez. Eight of the usual nine positions are claimed and the final outfield spot could be filled internally if Johan Rojas shows enough offensive improvement in spring training.
What else is on the horizon for the Phillies this offseason?
“I think the way we’re going to look at it now is that we’re in a position where we can evaluate a lot of different things that could make our club better,” Dombrowski said. “We don’t really have an obvious spot that we need to fill like we need a starting pitcher. We’re pretty deep in our bullpen, but of course we can always be better. Our position players, our infield are basically ready. In the outfield, we have “A little question. We don’t really have an obvious need, but we’ll continue to look to see how we can improve.”