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Would (and should) the Phillies listen to calls on Aaron Nola?


Aaron Nola struggled in 2021. (Gavin Baker/Icon Sportswire)

Zack Wheeler will almost certainly take the ball for the Philadelphia Phillies when they open the 2022 season in Houston on March 31.

In part, that’s because Wheeler just completed one of the best seasons in franchise history, finishing a close second in National League Cy Young Award voting.

But it’s also because Aaron Nola — who has gotten the ball on the last four opening days for the Phillies — is coming off a very frustrating 2021 campaign.

There are some numbers — such as his 3.37 FIP and .308 opponent’s batting average on balls in play — that suggest Nola was unlucky in 2021, and could be due for positive regression next season.

But the bottom line is that the Phillies needed more, much more, than the 4.63 ERA that Nola posted in 2021. Normally not one to show much emotion, Nola did seem fatigued by questions about September struggles, but his 6.19 ERA in the final month of the season assured that the same questions will be asked next September.

Is there any chance that the Phillies would at least be willing to listen to offers on Nola this winter, as they attempt to retool a roster that despite big-money investments has failed to reach the postseason with this core in each of the last three seasons?

On the latest Phillies Talk Podcast, Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia discussed the possibility of the Phillies — who don’t have a ton of prospect capital — trying to address some of their roster deficiencies with a major trade, perhaps even one that included Nola:

“…I don’t rule out Dombrowski … you know his track record, he likes big trades — I don’t rule out him doing something like that [making a big trade]. I look at the way they’ve built some catching depth, maybe they could part with one of their minor league catching prospects.

“I don’t see them parting with Bryson Stott. Would they listen on a guy like Alec Bohm? I don’t know. Right now, the intention is to play him at third base, but I think they are willing to discuss just about anything.

“I think they would discuss Aaron Nola … depending on what they get back … depending on how they could plug a hole in the rotation that would create. It would be a $20 million free-up there that you could use.

“I don’t think Corey [Knebel] if he comes … I don’t think [Kyle] Schwarber if he comes is the last move that this team makes. I think Dombrowski knows that he needs to do more to close up that gap between him and the Braves and the hard-charging New York Mets. And don’t rule out the improving Miami Marlins, who have a lot of good arms.

“I just think, we’re really focused on these last couple days … there’s a lot of action … a lot of headlines … it’s fun … but there’s a lot of offseason left. And there’s time to churn this thing even once the season gets going. Dombrowski has a history of that, making moves at the deadline.”

In theory, no one is untouchable. But after seemingly credible trade rumors surfaced regarding Wheeler last offseason, Phillies managing partner John Middleton went as far as saying that he wouldn’t trade the righty for Babe Ruth. Following Wheeler’s dominant 2021 campaign, one would think president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski would hang up the phone pretty quickly if a team called on Wheeler this winter. The same is probably true for reigning National League MVP Bryce Harper.

So there is significance in at least being open to a conversation, even if it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re inclined to trade a player.

After all, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported shortly after the Wheeler story last offseason that the Phillies had received calls checking on the availability of both Nola and Rhys Hoskins, and there’s no indication that they were particularly interested in discussing the pitcher at that time.

Granted, that was before Dombrowski was the president of baseball operations and Sam Fuld was elevated to general manager.

It was also before Nola moved another year away from his 2018 season, where only Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer — two of the most dominant pitchers in MLB history — finished above him in NL Cy Young Award voting.

And as Nola struggled again in September, the Phillies saw their postseason drought reach 10 years. The last time that the Phillies reached the postseason was 2011. When Roy Halladay and the Phillies were defeated in Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS, Nola was a freshman at LSU, a few months removed from deciding to play collegiately, rather than signing with the Toronto Blue Jays after being selected in the 22nd round of that year’s MLB Draft.

There is a reality here that even if you believe Nola is a No. 2 or No. 3 starter, rather than an ace, those type of starters don’t grow on trees. Who was the last No. 3 type starter the Phillies developed? Maybe Zach Eflin, but prior to him, it was probably J.A. Happ. Even if Nola is more like a No. 3 starter that will have stretches where he looks like an ace, you need those type of starters to win. Not every good pitcher is going to be Halladay or Cliff Lee.

If the Phillies did entertain offers for Nola this offseason, they’d seemingly be selling low on the former All-Star. Since the start of the 2017 season, Nola is fourth in baseball with 824 2/3 innings and fourth with a 19.9 fWAR. The only pitchers with more innings than him over that time are Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke and Scherzer. In terms of fWAR, only deGrom, Scherzer and Cole top him. Cole, Greinke, Scherzer and deGrom may all eventually be immortalized together in Cooperstown. Do you want to move the pitcher who has been next in line in some categories behind that quartet the winter after he posted a 4.63 ERA?

Nola, now the longest-tenured Phillie, is due $15 million in 2021, and has a $16 million club option for 2022, his age-30 season. Even after a disappointing season, if Nola was a free agent right now, teams would line up to offer him more money over the next two seasons than $31 million, with a lot more guaranteed years tacked on.

On one hand, the fact that his contract is relatively team friendly might make him a bit more valuable if the Phillies did listen to trade offers. On the other hand, you would be trading a pretty durable starter, and would be unlikely to find a similar arm for the same price, if at all.

But who knows. The Phillies should be desperate to avoid wasting the primes of Harper and Wheeler. We certainly wouldn’t bet on Nola getting traded, but last offseason such a possibility would have been laughable. Now, it’s pretty unlikely, but perhaps not unthinkable.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Willia

    December 1, 2021 at 12:36 pm

    Yes, Yes , Yes encourge other Teams to make an offers !
    We can’t be picky with an guy that got ERA over 4.

  2. Steve

    December 6, 2021 at 11:56 am

    YES. BUT IT ALL DEPENDS ON WHAT THEY OFFER.
    NO ONE IS UNTOUCHABLE if THE OFFER IS RIGHT.
    NOLA WAS NEVER AN ACE TO BEGIN WITH. BUT THE
    PHILLIES TOLD YOU HE WAS and YOU LISTENED.

  3. SportsFan0000

    December 11, 2021 at 6:09 am

    No player is untouchable. If a team with a loaded farm system brimming with young impact players offers multiple top young players and prospects for Nola or anyone else, the Front Office must field all offers and then do what is best for the team both short and long term.

  4. Walt1

    December 12, 2021 at 12:10 am

    Depleted farm system, luxury tax susceptible brings me to the problem the Phillies have. Unless they are willing to go over the luxury tax there’s not much hope in a successful off season.
    In my opinion, open the coffure and make this team competitive again.

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