CHERRY HILL, N.J. -- Aaron Nola still seemed bothered that referees cost his New Orleans Saints a trip to the Super Bowl on Sunday.
The Louisiana native seemed less perturbed Monday night about heading to a salary arbitration hearing with the Phillies on Feb. 14. Nola, who finished third in voting for the 2018 National League Cy Young Award, and the Phillies could not reach an agreement on a 2019 salary before a Jan. 11 deadline. Nola is seeking $6.75 million next season. The Phillies offered $4.5 million.
It is a considerable gap.
"No hard feelings between us," Nola said at the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association banquet, where he received the 2018 Athlete of the Year Award. "I mean, this is baseball. It's the business part of the game. Whatever happens, happens. We're just going to go through it."
The Phillies probably are looking at the fact that only one first-time arbitration starter has been paid more than Dontrelle Willis' $4.35 million in 2006 and David Price's $4.35 million in '12. That was Dallas Keuchel, who received $7.25 million in '16, after winning the American League Cy Young Award.
Hearings can be interesting experiences. Teams basically make a case against their own player with the player in the room.
Egos can be bruised. Feelings can be hurt.
"I think I'll be going in and sitting down," Nola said. "I'm looking forward to it."
"I think there are players outside of our organization who get their feelings hurt in this process," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. "I don't see Aaron as the type of guy that would get his feelings hurt in an arbitration process."
The Phillies have not gone to a hearing since 2008, when they lost to Ryan Howard. If Howard suffered any ill feelings after the experience, they vanished a couple years later when he signed a five-year, $125 million contract extension.
The Phillies could pursue a contract extension with Nola, although Nola said he has not heard if the Phillies are interested. A source said late last year that the Phillies were in no rush to work on extensions with Nola or Rhys Hoskins, particularly as they focus on signing Manny Machado or Bryce Harper in free agency.
"If they ever came up and said anything, I'd have to think about it," Nola.
But for now, it appears the Phillies and Nola will be headed to a hearing. For what it is worth, Nola is 41-28 with a 3.35 ERA, 3.24 FIP, 1.139 WHIP and 3.85 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his career. Keuchel was 41-35 with a 3.58 ERA, 3.67 FIP, 1.250 WHIP and 2.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio through his first four seasons.
Bryce and Manny (non) update
Kapler carefully avoided questions about the Harper and Machado sweepstakes. Namely, when in the world are the Phillies going to sign one of these guys?
"I feel like the roster that we have right now is super strong," Kapler said. "If it turned out that we had Manny or Bryce, that would make our roster a whole lot stronger. … Both of them have had an amazing first six years of their career and they're both kind of entering their primes, so they'd both be great additions to our roster."
Kapler acknowledged that the Jan. 12 meeting between the Phillies and Harper in Las Vegas went well.
"It was easy to look across a table and see the intensity and the determination that Bryce brings," Kapler said. "We all know about his talent. And we talked mostly about the things that were important to him, like creating a family environment in the clubhouse, and those are things we are determined to do."
There have been some misgivings about Harper's defensive metrics in the outfield, which ranked among the worst in baseball last season. Kapler said he is personally comfortable with Harper's defensive skills.
"Let me just say, looking at him with my evaluation hat on and kind of separate from the Phillies, I think he's a much better defender than some people suggested that he was last year," he said.