Forecasting Aaron Nola's free-agent payday as contract talks with Phillies break off

Forecasting Aaron Nola's free-agent payday as contract talks with Phillies break off originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Time sure does fly, but it was nearly 11 years ago that the Phillies signed 28-year-old Cole Hamels to a six-year contract extension worth $144 million.

All-time, there have been 17 contracts for pitchers of at least $144 million:

Scroll to continue with content

Will Aaron Nola be the next?

Nola is a free agent after the 2023 season, and on Saturday, Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said that extension talks had broken off.

"We are not going to get that done at this point," Dombrowski said. "We are going to, at this point, break those off. We think the world of Aaron. We've talked long and hard with Aaron and his representative about the situation. We think the world of him, quality pitcher, quality human being, but sometimes you just get to this point where you're just not able to consummate a deal where both sides feel comfortable."

If you're Nola, the benefit of doing a deal now would be to avoid the worst-case scenario of suffering a significant injury during the season that affects the next payday. But obviously, the sides did not get close enough financially during their conversations in spring training. Nola will apparently reach free agency, where he and Julio Urias are set to be the top two starting pitchers available. (Free-agent-to-be Shohei Ohtani is in a tier of his own.)


Nola, who has earned approximately $63 million in his eight-year big-league career, turns 30 on June 4. He is coming off his second-best season -- a 3.25 ERA and 0.96 WHIP in 32 starts. He and Corbin Burnes were the only pitchers in the majors with so low an ERA and WHIP in at least 200 innings.

In 2022, Nola struck out 235 batters and walked 29. The only pitcher in MLB history with that many strikeouts and so few walks in a season was Jim Whitney for the 1884 Boston Beaneaters.

Nola's not just OK, he's not just pretty good, he's one of the top starting pitchers in baseball. Barring a disastrous year, he will be valued as such on the free-agent market.

The Yankees signed Carlos Rodon in December to a six-year, $162 million contract. Why wouldn't that be the starting point sought by Nola? Rodon, like Nola, is entering his age-30 season. He has been dominant two years in a row, striking out 422 batters in 310⅔ innings with a 2.67 ERA.


In terms of workload, Rodon has nowhere near the track record of Nola. Rodon has had two seasons with at least 160 innings in his eight-year career. Nola has had five, and he leads the majors in innings pitched since 2018.

That can also be construed negatively when negotiating with a 30-year-old pitcher. One team, one front office might fall in love with the idea of signing a workhorse who limits baserunners and misses bats but never misses starts. Another might look at those 896⅓ innings over the last five years -- which includes a pandemic-shortened season -- more cautiously with regard to the future.

Asked if he thought the halt in negotiations might affect Nola's season, Dombrowski said he was not worried.

"I'm pretty sure he'll go out there and have a big year," he said. "It reminds me a little bit -- I wasn't here at the time, but people have told me -- of the J.T. Realmuto situation a few years ago. The club tried to get him signed before the season, it didn't work out, and then of course he re-signed in the wintertime."


Nola has not missed a start since May 2017. The August before, he went on the injured list with an elbow sprain and missed the rest of that season. Nola rehabbed it with rest rather than surgery, as Andrew Painter is trying to do now, and has been the most durable pitcher in the game since.

"It was a blessing in disguise getting hurt in 2016," Nola said earlier this month, "because my delivery was kind of wack back then. It helped me use my legs a lot more. My stride got longer in 2017, which ultimately helps my arm."

Nola will start the opener for the Phillies in Texas on March 30 opposite Jacob deGrom. It will be his sixth straight opening day start with the Phils. There is a chance it's his last, but an entire season of gigantic expectations must play out before his contract situation becomes the biggest topic in Phillies land.