Aaron Nola is staying put.
The Phillies called him their top priority this offseason and put their wallet behind their words, agreeing to a seven-year contract worth $172 million with the starting pitcher, a source confirmed. Terms of the deal were first reported by EuroJournal.
One of the three most appealing and accomplished arms on the free-agent market, Nola drew plenty of attention and was believed to have at least a handful of big-market, contending teams pursuing him. It was a given that his contract would reach or surpass $150 million because that’s the price of top-end pitching. The richest pitching contract last offseason went to Carlos Rodon — six years, $162 million — and Nola has a much more substantial track record at the same age (30).
Nola’s contract, which is pending a physical and hasn’t yet been announced, tops Cole Hamels’ six-year, $144 million deal as the largest ever for a Phillies pitcher.
The Braves, who have geared up to increase their payroll and are searching for starting pitching, were known to be after Nola. They were a real threat and it would have been a tough pill for the organization to swallow if he switched sides to the division rival. Now, he’s under contract with the Phils through his age-37 season.
Nola has only known the Phillies. They drafted him seventh overall in 2014 hoping he could meet the pre-draft expectation that he’d ascend the minor-league ladder quickly and he did so, debuting the next summer.
But from the moment Nola stepped on the mound as a professional, he exceeded expectations with his command, deep arsenal of pitches and ability to miss bats. He showed his ceiling was more significant than “innings eater” and he’s become a frontline starting pitcher over the last nine seasons, placing third, fourth and seventh in Cy Young voting since 2018 while leading the National League with 1,065⅓ innings.
Nola has a 3.72 ERA in 235 career starts. He was excellent in 2018 (2.37 ERA, 0.98 WHIP), 2020 (3.28 ERA) and 2022 (3.25 ERA, 0.96 WHIP). He struggled through large sections of the regular season in 2021 and 2023, causing a section of the fanbase to question his eventual free-agent worth.
But for the second consecutive year, he stepped up in late September and early October to put the Phillies in position to potentially win it all. They fell two wins short in 2022 and five wins short in 2023, with Nola losing Game 6 of the NLCS at home to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a stunning team collapse. Nola was far from the reason they lost the series and was as instrumental as anyone in getting the Phils so deep into October again, allowing just two runs in 15⅔ innings in the wild-card round, NLDS and NLCS prior to Game 6.
The top tier of free-agent starting pitchers included Nola, Blake Snell, Sonny Gray and Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto. The Phillies never seemed all that enthusiastic about Snell or Gray. Both have durability concerns and somewhat lengthy injury histories. Snell just won his second Cy Young award but also led the majors with 99 walks.
They could have found a replacement for Nola in a trade — perhaps someone like Corbin Burnes, Tyler Glasnow or Dylan Cease — but that would have cost prospects in addition to an eventual contract extension. And there was no guarantee any of them would fare better during the life of their next contract than Nola.
It will be interesting to see how Nola ages throughout his new deal. All the mileage on his arm hasn’t yet resulted in diminished stuff, and two years in a row, he was at his best eight months into the baseball calendar. Time catches up with every pitcher and the Phillies are hoping it doesn’t with Nola until at least the late-2020s.
The Phillies have their rotation in place with Zack Wheeler, Nola, Ranger Suarez, Taijuan Walker and Cristopher Sanchez. Suarez has two years left under team control, Walker is under contract for three more years and Sanchez is locked up through 2028.
Wheeler’s situation is the most pressing. He has just one year left under contract, 2024, and the Phillies will want to extend him before the regular season begins to avoid returning to a similar point they reached with Nola.
As far as immediate offseason needs, the Phillies will look to add another offensive piece in the outfield, either in center or left. Kyle Schwarber is their designated hitter with Bryce Harper at first base, Bryson Stott at second, Trea Turner at short, Alec Bohm at third, J.T. Realmuto behind the plate and Nick Castellanos in right field. Brandon Marsh will likely begin the season in either center or left. Johan Rojas ended 2023 as the Phillies’ everyday center fielder but Dave Dombrowski has said Rojas will need to hit earn that job, so that sticks out as the position where the Phillies could add more thump to their offense.
But the biggest piece of the Phillies’ offseason puzzle — retaining Nola or finding his replacement — has been addressed, a full two weeks before MLB’s Winter Meetings.