Baseball is finally back. Meaningless Spring Training games start today.

This afternoon, the Phillies will begin their Grapefruit League action with matchups against the Tigers in Lakeland and the Yankees in Clearwater. Lefty hurler Michael Plassmeyer is slated to get the start against the Tigers with reliever Nick Nelson opening against the Yankees. With the split squad, it’s likely we’ll see some of the Phillies’ regulars for at least a couple of plate appearances. Others will be eased into action as the weeks progress.

But does any of what happens today actually matter? No, of course not. Well, maybe. Remember, in Spring Training, if a player starts slow it means absolutely nothing. But, if a player is scorching hot from the get-go, it means they’ll have a career year. Isn’t that right 2018 Scott Kingery?

Regardless, it’s good to have baseball back.

Fortunately for the Phillies, there are no pressing position battles in camp this year like there have been previously. The only jobs to be had are the fifth starter, one or two bench spots, and the last reliever. However, the Phils are dealing with a deadline. 

Aaron Nola is in the final year of his contract and due to hit free agency at the conclusion of the season. It’s been reported that he and the Phillies have been in talks about a long term extension. Nola, however, has set a deadline for an agreement by Opening Day as he does not want a future contract to be a distraction from the season. Other than Shohei Ohtani who is in a class of his own being a two-way superstar, Nola is far and away the best starting pitcher scheduled to be a free agent this offseason. 

Last season, Nola logged 205 innings with a 2.58 FIP and ranked fourth in all of baseball with 6 WAR. Not to mention, he finished fourth in National League Cy Young voting and was the first pitcher since 1884(!) to register more than 220 strikeouts and less than 30 walks in a single season. Over the past five years, Nola has thrown a total of 871.2 innings coupled with a 3.47 ERA and 10.4 K/9. Simply put, the Phils’ ace has been one of the most durable and reliable pitchers in baseball since 2018. 

He will not come cheap, nor should he. After Ohtani and Nola, the remaining pending free agent starting pitchers will be headlined by Julio Urias, Blake Snell, and Lucas Giolito. Not bad options, but Nola would likely be the first choice for most teams when looking at the track record. While Ohtani is likely to eclipse $45 million in average annual value (AAV), Nola’s current market value is slated at $30.7 million, according to Spotrac.

Comparably speaking, Nola matches up pretty well with Zack Wheeler, Gerrit Cole, and Carlos Rodon statistically at the time of their free agency. Those three pitchers received contracts ranging from 5-9 years with AAVs of $23.6 million, $36 million, and $27 million, respectively. With the way the market for talent has been over the past few offseasons (thanks Steve Cohen), Nola will likely look to surpass the contract Rodon received from the Yankees this past offseason to not test free agency. The contract, $162 million over six years, will serve as Nola’s starting point.

The Phillies have multiple ways to go about a contract extension. One possibility is a shorter term contract worth a high AAV to account for the volatility of pitchers as they age. For Nola, this contract would look something like five years, $150 million. Another avenue––which has been a trend since Bryce Harper’s mega-deal in 2019––is a smaller AAV with added years. This type of contract allows for a team to have year-to-year payroll flexibility to add more talent while staying under the Luxury Tax. The Phillies used this model with Trea Turner this past offseason, awarding him an 11-year, $300 million contract. For Nola, this contract would be in the range $190 million over seven years, carrying him through his age 37 season. 

Nevertheless, make no mistake about it––Nola wants to be here. The Phillies want him here for the long term. The two parties trust one another and know exactly what they’re getting day in and day out. There’s comfort in that. Coming from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Nola has a smooth and easy personality that fits perfectly inside the family-oriented organization John Middleton has created over the years. Not to mention, Nola is not only one of the best players the Phillies organization has ever developed, but he is also one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. It would behoove Dave Dombrowski to get a deal done––and soon.

Photo: Miles Kennedy/Phillies Team Photographer

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