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Let’s extend Aaron Nola!

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If the team wants to spend some money on pitching, let’s start with the guy already here!

Philadelphia Phillies v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
“If I say ‘I’ll sign now’, what might they give me?”
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

There seems to be an urgent need among the Phillies fan base to spend money on some of the more expensive items this winter rather than go digging in the bargain bin once again. I’m among them. I want the Phillies to spend a little bit of money this offseason. I truly do. When you analyze the team, the part that arguably doesn’t need a whole lot of spending on it right now is the lineup. They’re pretty much set on who they’re going to begin the season with at this point, unless something unforeseen happens throughout the winter. Even if you don’t want Maikel Franco in the lineup, guess what - he’s getting another crack at the position. So, we can kind of rule out a bat coming into town.

No, if they are going to spend money anywhere this offseason, it’s probably going to be on pitching. Any and all pitching. Ok, fine, it’s going to be on the rotation. There are a few landmines pitchers out there that should be of some interest, but we’ll just have to wait and see if management is ready to dive headfirst into the market, or if they would rather trade players to acquire better starters.

In the meantime, there sits Aaron Nola. A homegrown ace in waiting, he could be waiting at home thinking about if he is going to be the latest in the trend of teams signing their own young starters to extensions. Last year, there existed the possibility that the team would begin those discussions, but then his elbow starting barking, extinguishing those flames before the flint even got a spark. Now, after showing more and more flashes of dominance, coupled with an ability to stay healthy and accrue innings, it’s time to begin considering that extension yet again.

But where do they start? Does the team just throw money out at Nola, coming up with a number that they think is fair and hope he will accept it? Of course not. They look at comparable players and contracts to what Nola has done thus far and base their negotiations off of that. MLB Trade Rumors attempted in early October to try and find these comparable players as well, coming up with Madison Bumgarner, Chris Sale, Derek Holland and Trevor Cahill as comparable players to what Nola is facing - players who still have arbitration years ahead of them, as well as years of major league minimum salaries. So, since they’re “comparable”, let’s compare them! Here’s a chart of how each player performed up to the point they signed their extension (listed as years):

Extension candidates

Pitcher seasons IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9
Pitcher seasons IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9
Aaron Nola 3 356.2 3.94 3.38 25.0% 6.5% 51.0% 1.0
Chris Archer 2 158 3.47 3.94 21.2% 7.9% 46.3% 1.0
Carlos Martinez 4 492.2 3.32 3.36 22.5% 8.6% 54.5% 0.6
Chris Sale 3 286.1 2.89 3.19 26.3% 7.6% 46.4% 0.8
Madison Bumgarner 4 337 3.12 3.15 20.8% 5.6% 46.2% 0.7
Derek Holland 3 393.2 4.37 4.36 18.9% 8.1% 44.0% 1.2

I took the liberty of adding Carlos Martinez and Chris Archer to the list, pitchers that also signed a large contract extension after their respective teams showed confidence in what they were doing on the mound.

You can see that Nola stacks up nicely with all of these pitchers. The ERA is a lot higher than the others, but that can be attributed to pitching last years with an injured wing. All of the other peripherals we look for in a pitcher - if he’s striking people out, preventing walks, getting ground balls, etc. - show a pitcher for the Phillies that is certainly worthy of that “ace” label. We have to take in mind that several of these players have their totals skewed by being in the bullpen. Martinez and Sale, for example, started in the bullpen before they joined the rotation, but as we know, they haven’t really missed a beat. Long story short: Nola certainly belongs in the conversation with these top tier pitchers (except Holland. He’s bad.)

Now, let’s get to the interesting part: what did they sign for? Below is a table of their contracts with guaranteed money and team options that were added:

Contract extensions

Pitcher Year Signed Service Time Years Guaranteed Money Options FA Years Bought Final Value w/ Options
Pitcher Year Signed Service Time Years Guaranteed Money Options FA Years Bought Final Value w/ Options
Chris Archer 2014 <1 6 $25.5M Yes (2) 2 $43.75M
Carlos Martinez 2017 3 5 $51M Yes (2) 2 $86M
Chris Sale 2013 2 5 $32.5M Yes (2) 1 $57.5M
Madison Bumgarner 2012 2 5 $35M Yes (2) 1 $59M
Derek Holland 2012 2 5 $28.5M Yes (2) 1 $49M

Using these contracts to begin to form a baseline, we’d have to assume that an extension for Nola will have to begin at five years minimum. He’s entering 2018 with one more year of pre-arbitration left, then he’ll enter 2019, 2020 and 2021 as an arbitration eligible player. The Phillies, if they use these other contracts as a guide, will want to buy out those four seasons and one free agent, plus tack on two team options to the end of the contract. If they do this, they’ll control his rights until 2025, at which point he’d enter the free agent market as a 32 year old.

So, what’s all that worth?

Now, I am by no means an expert on contracts and value of players. What I do know is that team’s always look at other players’ contracts as a means of creating an offer and that players look at other contracts to see where the baseline has been set. So, let’s go off of what we know.

Carlos Martinez’s extension is loftier in terms of actual value because he was closer to free agency than anyone else. Aaron Nola has 2+ years of service time, so he’d fall into the Bumgarner/Sale/Holland territory. Even though they were all made 5-6 years ago, they still are close to each other in terms of actual dollars.

You might be wondering why there is a difference in the two salaries, since Sale is arguably a better pitcher than Bumgarner. The difference, I believe, in why Bumgarner got more money than Sale is two fold: First, Sale had only been a starter for one year and his funky mechanics were still cringe worthy to team executives, so they gave themselves some financial cushion. Second, Bumgarner had shown two seasons of 2+ WAR seasons, plus he had helped lead the 2010 Giants to a World Series title. The difference in dollars was probably a “thank you” to him for that.

Since they seem to be the closest to what Nola is in terms of actual results, we can use their contracts to help set our bearings for what Nola is able to get.

We can safely assume that any deal will be five years. That we’ve established. We can also assume he’ll get two options tacked on. Also established. In my mind, looking at past performance and comparable players, I think a 5 year, $38 million extension with two options ($13.5 million and $14.5 million) at the end if fair value. If either option is not picked up, he’d get a $1.5 million buyout. All told, he’d be guaranteed $39.5 million, a pretty fair amount that would set him up for life while also setting a new threshold for other young starters to try and top. If both options are exercised, Nola will have earned $66 million over his time in Philadelphia, at which he’d enter free agency to try and get his last big contract. At the rate pitching is being valued, you can bet he’d be able to get more money on the open market. This extensions tops both Bumgarner and Sale’s guaranteed portions of the contract, their extensions and their buyouts. While he’d be signing away his ability to (potentially) make even more money via arbitration, he’d also guarantee himself some dough in case of injury. The Phillies assume the risk of having to pay a player that can offer no sort of performance were he to get injured, but they also get a top of the rotation starter at a fraction of the cost. I’m not going to get into the conversation as to whose side you might take in this (that’s what the comments are for), I’m just presenting what I think would be a fair offer for both sides.

I don’t know that the Phillies are going to sign Nola to an extension. In fact, I’d bet they haven’t even approached Nola’s agents about such an idea. In fact, each of those extensions you see above was done in the late winter, almost in spring training. The teams had other business they wanted to settle first before they got around to talking money with a player whose rights they already controlled. It makes sense. But, once the winter meetings are over and the free agents have signed and the major deals have been consummated, if talks were going to heat up, I’d look for them to start then. Let’s hope that the team and the ace can come to an agreement to keep him around for a long time.