Nola, Phillies commit for long haul with 7-year deal

November 19th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- Aaron Nola is already one of the greatest pitchers in Phillies history.

He could finish his career as one of the greatest Phillies ever. He will have every opportunity to build upon his legacy. The Phillies announced Sunday that Nola signed a seven-year deal. Terms weren't disclosed, but multiple sources told that the contract is worth $172 million.

“At the outset of this offseason, we made signing Aaron our top priority,” Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said in a statement. “We are committed to winning, and having an individual like him in our uniform for years to come only helps us in that regard. Aaron has proven to be one of the best and most durable pitchers in our game for a number of years now, and when considering his leadership abilities and his character, it was very important for us to keep him a part of the Phillies family.”

Nola, 30, will be 37 when he finishes his 16th season with the Phillies in 2030. If he pitches at least one game in each of the next seven years, only Mike Schmidt will have played more seasons in Philadelphia. He played 18 (1972-89). No one has pitched more seasons for the Phillies than Steve Carlton (15, 1972-86).

It just made sense for the Phillies and Nola to continue their relationship.

The Phillies needed Nola because they want to win a World Series, and they need a strong rotation to get there. Nola provides them two top-tier starters in the 2024 rotation, with Zack Wheeler leading the way. Wheeler, Nola, Ranger Suárez, Taijuan Walker and Cristopher Sánchez could stack up as one of the best rotations in baseball. The Phillies’ rotation last season had an MLB-best 17.7 WAR, according to FanGraphs.

Nola wanted the Phillies because it has been his home since they selected him with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 Draft. He has spoken several times over the past few months about how far the organization has come since he joined almost a decade ago. He wants to finish the job.

Of course, any multiyear deal for any pitcher carries risks. Nola had an up-and-down 2023. He posted a 4.46 ERA, his second-highest ERA since 2016 (4.78). His strikeout rate dipped to 25.5 percent, his lowest mark since 2016. He gave up 32 home runs, tied for seventh most in baseball.

But Nola had a 2.35 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 23 innings in the postseason, alleviating some concerns. Few in baseball, however, could match his body of work over the past six seasons, which was why he ranked among the top three free-agent starting pitchers on the market, alongside right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto and left-hander Blake Snell. Nola pitched 1,065 1/3 innings from 2018-23, second most in baseball to Gerrit Cole. Nola's 26.0 WAR in those six seasons is fifth, according to Baseball Reference. Only Max Scherzer (29.8), Cole (29.7), Wheeler (26.4) and Jacob deGrom (26.1) have been better.

The Phillies and Nola’s camp talked about a contract extension in Spring Training, but those talks went nowhere. Nola’s camp sought more than $200 million. The Phillies never came close.

Both parties paused talks at that point, agreeing to resume discussions after the season. It carried risk for the Phillies because Nola’s camp only needed one team to meet its demands. But the Phils made their intentions clear following their loss to Arizona in Game 7 of the NLCS. Dombrowski said re-signing Nola would be the team’s No. 1 priority.

Sunday’s agreement proved it. It is the largest contract for any pitcher in Phillies history.

So what’s next? The Phillies’ $172 million commitment to Nola does not mean they will stop trying to upgrade. Sources said they still have plans to pursue Yamamoto, who is a two-time Pacific League MVP and three-time Sawamura Award winner (Japan’s Cy Young). Word is that Phillies superstar Bryce Harper was involved in making a pitch to Yamamoto’s camp, which included a sizzle reel.

To make Yamamoto fit, however, the Phillies would have to shed payroll elsewhere.

The odds might be long, but a Nola-Yamamoto offseason would be a bold stroke for Dombrowski and a franchise in pursuit of its third World Series championship. If it does not happen, the Phillies will continue to pursue bullpen upgrades, although Josh Hader remains unlikely. The Phillies could try to add a bat, though trading for Angels outfielder Mike Trout is nothing more than a pipe dream. Trout’s contract and injury history make a pursuit too risky. Trout has played more than 82 games only once in the past four seasons.

The Phillies want more reliability than that as they stretch their budget to win a World Series trophy. Few players in baseball over the years have been more reliable than Nola. He ranks 19th among Phillies players with 31.7 WAR, according to Baseball Reference. Robin Roberts (72.0), Carlton (69.4), Grover Cleveland Alexander (61.3), Cole Hamels (43.0) and Curt Schilling (36.3) are the only pitchers ahead of him.