How Aaron Nola’s Phillies Contract Impacts Red Sox Offseason

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The first significant domino of the Major League Baseball offseason tumbled over Sunday when the Philadelphia Phillies signed Aaron Nola to a seven-year contract.

The move, which keeps Nola in the City of Brotherly Love through the 2030 season, has major implications across MLB. The most obvious effect, of course, is there’s now one less starter available in free agency.

That’s inherently tough news for the Boston Red Sox and every other team in search of high-end mound work. Nola was considered one of the best arms on the open market — alongside Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery — with a track record of All-Star-caliber production and workhorse dependability.

In fact, Nola might’ve been the safest bet of the top-tier starters, thanks to both his résumé and his profile. The 30-year-old isn’t necessarily overpowering but has an excellent feel for pitching, backed by elite command and a plus curveball. Only Gerrit Cole has pitched more innings since the beginning of 2018 and only Cole, Zack Wheeler, Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom have posted more fWAR.

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That said, a return to Philadelphia long seemed possible, if not likely. Nola has spent his entire career with the Phillies since being drafted in the first round (seventh overall) in 2014. So, it’s not like the Red Sox, or anyone else, should be blindsided by the news. If anything, they should be thankful — ’tis the season, right? — the situation was resolved so quickly, especially after initial signs pointed toward free agency unfolding at a snail’s pace.

Sometimes, deals are struck in quick succession. And Nola’s new contract, coupled with Yamamoto officially being posted Monday by the Orix Buffaloes, could expedite MLB’s offseason wheeling and dealing ahead of the winter meetings. The Red Sox, among others, can shift gears and focus on other targets without having to keep one eye on Nola. He was there. Now, he’s not. Case closed. On to the next starter.

Nola’s contract reportedly is worth $172 million over seven years, with no opt-out clauses or club options. That’s roughly $24.57 million annually, a reasonable rate for someone with his credentials, reliability and upside.

It’s difficult to say Nola set the market for starters this offseason when he reportedly turned down more money to remain in Philadelphia, but we nevertheless have a baseline off which to contextualize other free agency negotiations moving forward. The real takeaway might just be that Nola and the Phillies decided to go seven years on a deal, presumably at a lower salary than he otherwise would’ve been able to attain on a five- or six-year pact.

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Yamamoto is an outlier as an unknown commodity with a higher ceiling who’s entering his age-25 season. But Snell and Montgomery — the two starters most commonly lumped in with Nola this offseason — might need to prioritize length versus annual rate. What are they eyeing? And might their asking prices ultimately make teams more apt to explore the trade market, where several other impact starters could be available?

The good news for Boston: Retaining Nola probably takes Philadelphia out of the running for the other Tier 1 free-agent starters, most notably Yamamoto, who’s projected for the most lucrative payday. That advantage largely is offset by Nola’s removal from the waters — one less rod and one less fish — but Yamamoto should be the Red Sox’s preferred choice, anyway, given his age and his potential to completely transform Boston’s rotation.

Nola was the safe play. But the Red Sox, after back-to-back last-place finishes, should be willing to absorb a little more risk this winter in favor of the highest reward possible.

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