The Philadelphia Phillies have made the first major free-agent signing of the offseason. According to Jeff Passan of ESPN, the Phillies and their homegrown starting pitcher Aaron Nola have agreed on a seven-year, $172 million deal.
Right-hander Aaron Nola and the Philadelphia Phillies are in agreement on a seven-year, $172 million contract, sources tell ESPN. The deal is pending a physical. But it is done, and Nola, who has spent his whole career in Philadelphia, will remain with the Phillies.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 19, 2023
Nola and the Phillies met before the 2023 season to discuss a contract extension but the two sides were reportedly miles apart, and Nola and his agent Joe Longo eventually called off extension talks. According to The Athletic's Jayson Stark, Nola had been seeking a seven-year deal worth at least $200 million, while the Phillies were likely offering a five- to six-year deal in the range of $150 million.
Settling at seven years and $172 million splits the difference and allows both parties to get what they want: Nola pitching in red pinstripes until the end of his career.
Passan reported that the Atlanta Braves had been in serious contention to land Nola, but the Phillies stepped up and offered the deal Nola took, which is the biggest contract the Phillies have ever given to a pitcher. He'll make about $24.5 million per year, but according to Alex Coffey of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Nola could have made even more if he'd signed with another team. Taking a page out of Cliff Lee's book, he left money on the table to sign with the Phillies.
Nola, 30, has been with the Phillies since 2014 when they drafted him seventh overall out of LSU. He represented a departure in the team's previous strategy of drafting young pitchers and developing them over time. By the time the Phillies said his name on draft night, Nola was already well developed as a pitcher, which put him on the fast track to the majors.
He made his MLB debut in July 2015, just over a year after he was drafted, and was the first sign the Phillies had better days in store after several years in the gutter of the National League East.
The Nola experience in Philly has been a bit of a roller coaster. He was always seen as a good, dependable pitcher with the capacity to be excellent, and in 2018 he reached that capacity with a dynamite season. He pitched to a 2.37 ERA over 212 1/3 innings, and notched 224 strikeouts and finished third in Cy Young voting to Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer.
That was the top of the roller coaster, and the rest of the ride started after that season. He'd go through spells when he couldn't string two good starts together. Or after pitching several fantastic innings, he'd start spiraling after allowing a home run or extra base hit, and couldn't get back on track. The introduction of the pitch clock affected him at the start of the 2023 season, as he's always been a very deliberate pitcher who relies on long-practiced routines to keep him on track.
Nola and the Phillies have been honest about those issues and how they've tried to fix them. While Phillies fans have long been frustrated by Nola's inconsistency, the free-agent market wasn't exactly brimming with better pitchers. Every option had its unique drawbacks (like 2023 NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell, who is very good but rarely throws a pitch after the sixth inning).
The Phillies and Nola getting back together made too much sense for it to not happen. The Phillies know him well, and Nola is comfortable in Philly. He's the best homegrown starting pitcher the Phillies have produced since Cole Hamels, and now Nola and the Phillies can continue working toward that World Series title they've gotten so close to.