In the end, Aaron Nola stayed home. After reportedly turning down more money to play elsewhere, Nola, the pride of the Phillies developmental system, signed a 7-year, $172 million contract to stay in Philadelphia. It is the largest contract the Phillies have ever given to a pitcher. Nola will likely finish his career in the city where it began. For Nola, an outdoorsman from Baton Rouge, Philadelphia doesn’t feel as big as it once did. For Nola, Philadelphia feels like home and so he stayed.
Plus it’s hard to imagine that Nola wanted any part in playing against the Phillies come October. As the benefactor of the raucous Citizens Bank Park crowds, Nola knows all too well what would be coming his way as an opponent.
So what does this mean for the Phillies? It means that those 180-plus innings that Nola pitches every year, well, they’ll still get those. Despite Nola’s 2023 regular season being particularly uninspiring, the gap left in his hypothetical absence would’ve been massive and potentially detrimental to the starting rotation. His likely replacement had he signed elsewhere, Blake Snell, has only thrown 180 innings twice in his entire career. Yes, Snell just won his second Cy Young award, but the left-handed rarely throws past the 6th inning. Nola, while still prone to giving up the long ball and low-efficiency, high-strikeout starts, has the proven ability and continued potential to pitch deep into games. He’s also been near lights-out in the playoffs–something that the Phillies plan to be regular participants in for at least the next few years. In the end, they retained one head of their two-headed monster, for not a bad price at an estimated $24.5 a year. Sure, the contract is long, long enough to likely last Nola until the end of his career, but it was a price the Phillies could stomach. There’s enough talent in Nola to make another All-Star game or two. That shouldn’t shock anybody. But even if he doesn’t, if he just remains a steady number two, then roughly $24 million on a payroll expected to breach $260 million isn’t the end of the world. There have been worse contracts.
Even still, this shouldn’t mean that the Phillies are finished adding to the starting rotation – for both this offseason and the next. As reported on Sunday, they are still very much “in” on Japanese superstar Yoshinobu Yamamoto. The 25-year-old right hander, a five-time All-Star, three-time ERA champion, and a two-time Triple Crown champion in Japan’s NPB, is said to be perhaps the best pitcher ever to come out of Japan. Such high praise will come with an even higher price tag. The Phillies will likely be happy to pay it to an extent–there are other options out there, both on the trade market and in free-agency. It’s the thought itself that spawns confidence in the organization, especially with the upcoming decision they will have to make on ace Zack Wheeler.
Although Nola’s contract will likely have a net positive impact on the team, it sets a precedent: if the Phillies were willing to shell out big bucks for Nola, won’t they do the same for his running mate Wheeler? Wheeler, set to hit free agency after this year, has undeniably been the more dominant of the two since signing with the Phillies in 2020. However, Wheeler will be in his age 35 season in 2025 and for as good as he’s been, his age is slowly starting to show. Yes, Wheeler threw 192 innings over 32 starts and once again was electric in the postseason. But his average four-seam fastball and sinker velocity has decreased steadily from his 2021 campaign, in which he finished 2nd in Cy Young voting. A power pitcher, Wheeler’s fastball now averages 95.8mph versus 97.2mph in 2021. He no longer sits in the high nineties, routinely touching triple digits. Instead, Wheeler exists in the higher part of the mid-nineties, around 95-97 mph–not an insignificant difference for a pitcher in his mid-thirties. A short-term contract extension for Wheeler might be a shrewd move, but a massive deal taking him into his forties would assuredly not be.
Lastly, for Nola, he gets the deal he always wanted in the city he wanted to be in. Regardless of how this deal plays out, he will be forever remembered in the city of Philadelphia. Now, with the promise of staying here for the next seven years, he will be a legend. A World Series title would render him immortal. However, being the recipient of the largest contract ever given to a Phillies pitcher, comes with a price. The romanticism surrounding Nola is now gone–with a $172 million dollar payout, he is no longer a folk hero. Nola is no longer the little engine that could, the Phillies’ talented yet underrated pitcher, a control wizard that baffled hitters, an idiosyncrasy in an age when most pitchers sit in the upper-nineties. No, Nola has been paid like one of the best pitchers in the sport. Now, he’s expected to pitch like one.