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Don’t freak out about Aaron Nola’s (lack of a) contract

He’ll be a Phillie, fear not

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Philadelphia Phillies Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

For a few moments, forget about Aaron Nola’s initial start to the 2023 season. Think back to happier days, when Nola was the ace you grew to love as he nearly no-hit the eventual champion Houston Astros with a playoff spot on the line. Those were the good times, the times when you wanted Nola to get a contract extension. The difference? He still should get one.

When the news hit Phillies social media on March 25 and likely, your first reaction was guttural.

Naturally, the first instinct was one of despair. “How could the team even let the conversation get to this point?” you cried, grasping for something, anything, to cry and wallow into.

Then a bit of hope sprung up.

“Ok,” you considered, “maybe not all is lost...”

This, my friends, is the place you should be in now and for the remainder of the season. There is no real reason to freak out about the lack of a contract extension between the two parties involved at this time. Annoyance? Sure, that’s fine. We probably should be annoyed that the team didn’t get to Opening Day without a deal being struck since Nola is one of the more invaluable members of the team and critical to their hopes of getting back to, and winning, the World Series.

But emotions beyond mere annoyance? That really isn’t needed and should be avoided. The chances that Aaron Nola is pitching for another team in 2024 are less than you probably thinking. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb: I’ll guarantee that Nola is a Phillie for the forseeable future.

The marriage between the two just makes too much sense to end in an amicable breakup. Nola is one of the only top draft picks of the last decade that have panned out for the team thanks to his ability on the mound and their usage of him. There were lots of people that were worried about his mechanics coming out college would lead to an eventual undergoing of the knife, but even an elbow injury in 2016 avoided the “it shall not be spoken” surgery.

Since that scare, Nola has done nothing but take the baseball whenever asked to and put the Phillies in a position to win baseball games. We all know that in 2018, he had a near Cy Young season for the team, but he hasn’t reached those heights since. Does it matter? Not really, he’s still been a 3-4 fWAR pitcher for the Phillies. There were September struggles, a few of which may have cost the team an earlier bite at the playoff pie, but he still made himself into a top tier pitcher. In 2022, he made that next leap, carrying the team for much of the season and putting to bed any more notion that he was unable to win in September and October.

So now, we have Nola becoming an Ace in front of a national audience, meaning much more of the country has an idea of what we’ve been seeing the past 5-6 years. But the clock was ticking towards an extension prior to Opening Day this season and that clock has ended without a deal.

This team, though, simply has too much invested in the current roster to watch one of its main attractions simply walk out the door. Even if there are some pitching prospects on the horizon that could, in theory, help make up for some of the lost production should Nola walk, that just isn’t how the team looks like they’ve been cobbled together. No team is going to assemble a roster that includes many hitters in the middle of their current prime, maybe teetering toward the downhill slope, then approach those hitters with the plan to let one of the best pitchers in the game simply disappear. Imagine having that conversation with someone like Bryce Harper, telling him that as he is set to have perhaps the best roster he’s even played with, he’d better enjoy it now because it’s going to be missing one of the pitchers next year.

Not that any one player should be dictating team roster moves in any organization, but the team did not invest many millions of dollars in players like Harper and Trea Turner only to go with a plan that not only saves the team money, but also makes them actively worse on the roster in the process.

Still, it’s curious why the team would let it get to this point. We’ve seen them ramp up spending as promised in recent years, so it’s strange why now would be the time to suddenly exercise fiscal restraint. We aren’t in the room where it happens, so we can only speculate on whether the two sides differed on the amount of money, on the number of years, or any of the other things teams put into contracts to safeguard themselves against the negative. There has been a theory floated about that Andrew Painter was going to be moved to the rotation this season to prepare him for “taking over” for Nola in 2024, but a wise commercial once said:

The smart money still should be placed on Nola finishing his career in Philadelphia. There is plenty of appeal for both sides to get a deal done. For the Phillies, it’s the retention of a player who can markedly make the team better over the course of the next few years and give them the optimal chance at hositing a trophy in early November. For Nola, it’s getting the chance to stay with one organization while also being handsomely compensated according to his market value. There’s just no reason for it not to happen.

So don’t freak out too much about the developments in this situation. The team has been notoriously tight lipped about any and all transactions they’ve made in the recent past. To take negotiations public like this (or at least acknowledge the negotiations publicly) is a curious move, but not one that should spell doom for the relationship between team and player. There is lots of time - lots of time - for the two to figure out a middle ground. As much as Nola says he doesn’t want to talk about an extension in season, there will no doubt be feelers, offers, however you want to phrase it, put out during the season. It’ll simply be a matter of time before a signature is put down on paper.