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Jeremy Hellickson Accepts Phillies Qualifying Offer

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The Phillies deadline gamble on Hellickson doesn’t pay off.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the biggest question of the Phillies offseason was whether Jeremy Hellickson would accept the qualifying offer the team offered him. According to Jon Heyman, Hellickson has indeed taken the one-year, $17.2 million dollar qualifying offer to remain in Philadelphia for another season, or at least for another day. He is now the highest-paid player on the Phillies roster, surpassing the $10 million contract owed to recently-acquired Howie Kendrick.

This is a risk the Phillies incurred when they decided to not trade him at the deadline. As a Boras client, the hope undoubtedly was that, after a reasonably strong and healthy season, Hellickson would reject the qualifying offer in search of a multi-year deal with a contending team looking to sure up the back-end of their rotation. That would have landed the Phillies a supplemental round draft pick, which they could have conceivably turned into a legitimate prospect.

It’s difficult to have particularly strong feelings either way about this development. If I had to rank the potential outcomes of Hellickson’s tenure in Philly when they traded for him last year, they would look like this:

  1. Trade him at the 2016 deadline for potential future pieces
  2. He declines qualifying offer and nets the team a draft pick
  3. He has an effective year and accepts qualifying offer and remains a veteran-ish piece in a young rotation.
  4. He either gets injured or sucks in 2016, making him unmovable and useless long-term.

In this year’s weak free agent class, Hellickson had a strong case as the second-best pitcher on the market behind Rich Hill. As such, you could reasonably feel that the Phillies got good value here. Hellickson is coming off a season in which he posted the highest strikeout rate and lowest walk rate of his career (not counting his 2010 season when he threw 36.1 innings). Would the Phillies rather have a draft pick? Probably. But, they only extended a qualifying offer because they were comfortable with Hellickson accepting. Well, he accepted, and that’s ok.

They were likely to sign a veteran starter this offseason either way, and there aren’t too many out there better than Hellickson. Compared to Charlie Morton—who you may recall, was also on the Phillies last year—Hellickson may be a wash in terms of performance. However, in terms of durability, Hellickson clearly outshines Morton. In the last five seasons, Hellickson has made 25 or more starts four times while Morton has done that only once. It would have been hard for them to get a pitcher similar to Hellickson for much cheaper. The Phillies don’t need a veteran pitcher to front their rotation, they just need one to take the hill every fifth day so they can take their time with developing their younger options like Jake Thompson and Zach Eflin.

The Phillies could still conceivably trade Hellickson before the season and likely will trade him by the trade deadline. Until June 15, Hellickson would need to sign off on a trade and it’s unknown whether or not he would actually do that. At the deadline, all bets will be off. According to Yahoo’s Jeff Passan, the new CBA may well do away with the qualifying offer system, meaning that Hellickson would stand to make even more money next offseason without the loss of a draft pick attached to him. The Phillies would then have little incentive to hang on to him if when they are out of contention in July.

As it stands, the Phillies rotation is something to be legitimately excited about entering 2017. In some order, it will likely look like this: Nola, Hellickson, Velasquez, Eickhoff. The fifth spot may be Adam Morgan’s to start the season, but will likely belong to Eflin or Thompson before long. No one will mistake that for one of the best rotations in baseball, but it strikes as solidly top-half with enough depth to withstand the injuries that assuredly will come.

Hellickson is back. That’s not the best possible outcome for the Phillies, but it’s not the worst either. $17.2 million sounds like a lot of money, but it is far from a prohibitive amount to work out a trade if Hellickson’s 2017 looks at all like his 2016. It’s a fine deal for both parties.