With the seventh overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft, the Phillies selected a tall, lanky right-handed pitcher from LSU named Aaron Nola.
At the time, most experts predicted he’d be a solid, mid-rotation starting pitcher. He had good command of his fastball as well as a decent curveball and changeup, but at the time, no one saw a perennial All Star or Cy Young contender. Of course, at the time, Nola was throwing 92-93 mph, hardly the kind of high octane velocity most star pitchers possess nowadays.
Nine seasons later, Nola is the Phillies’ longest tenured player.
He has won 90 games and lost 71, has finished in the top five in Cy Young voting twice and in the top 10 three times. He has started 235 games, seventh-most in franchise history. He has pitched 1,422 innings. He is the team’s all-time leader in strikeouts per inning pitched (10.0) and is fifth in total strikeouts (1,582).
In short, he has far surpassed anything the Phillies could have envisioned when they drafted him nearly a decade ago.
And his time in Philly may be up.
After failing to reach a contract extension agreement with the Phillies last spring, Nola finished the final year of his contract by posting a rather pedestrian 4.46 ERA and gave up a career high 32 home runs. By his own admission, he did not have a good season, his second subpar effort in his last three.
Despite his 2023 struggles, his larger body of work makes him one of the more highly sought-after free agent pitchers on the market this winter.
Nola also came on late in the season and his first three playoff starts. He was unhittable in Games 2 of the NL Wild Card, NL Divisional and Championship Series. Then, of course, he turned very hittable in the potential clinching Game 6 of the NLCS, giving up three early runs in the Phils’ ugly 5-1 loss.
When Nola is pitching well, there are few better arms in baseball. But too often, he has extended periods of struggles and is susceptible to the blow-up inning that seems to stalk him in every start. Many fans have simply lost trust in the veteran right-hander and would rather see the Phillies obtain a new No. 2 starter than sign him as a long-term free agent, a deal some team is likely to give him.
Team president Dave Dombrowski has said re-signing Nola is a “top priority” this winter, but one would imagine there is a limit to the number of years and dollars he’d be willing to match for the 30-year-old.
If someone is willing to give Nola a 6 or 7-year deal, that may be more than the Phils (and the fanbase) could stomach. However, it would also leave a gaping hole at the top of the rotation that Dombrowski and GM Sam Fuld would need to fill. And there are some decent alternatives out there, such as potential NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery, Sonny Gray and others.
Nola is the guy we know, for better or worse. On the whole, he’s been a very good pitcher for the Phillies, but it’s fair to wonder if it’s time to move on. It’s a decision that will have some emotion attached to it, but one Dombrowski and Fuld will have to make in the next few weeks.
Nola’s future was much-discussed on the latest edition of Hittin’ Season, so check it out!
Updated 1:45 p.m.