Jeremy Hellickson Accepts Qualifying Offer
In a somewhat surprising move, Jeremy Hellickson has accepted the Phillies Qualifying Offer. Therefore, the Phillies will pay him $17.2 million for the 2017 season. While $17.2 million might sound like a lot for a pitcher of Hellickson’s caliber, there are several reasons why it would have made sense for him to decline.
For one, this free agent class is the most dismal in recent memory. Hellickson figured to get among the highest value contracts of all pitchers this offseason. The only free agent starter who produced more WAR than Hellickson is Rich Hill, who missed a good chunk of the season with injury and will play the 2017 season at age 37. Hellickson, who will play the 2017 season at age 30, appears to be the better bet to stay on the field despite his lengthy injury history.
On the other hand, the 2017 free agent class has the potential to be talented and deep. Some players could negotiate contract extensions before the offseason, but right now the likes of Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Johnny Cueto, Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and Lance Lynn could all be free agents. Any one of those pitchers could be in line to make more than Hellickson even if he can repeat his solid 2016.
FanGraphs contract crowdsourcing and MLBTradeRumors predicted a contract in the range of 4 years, $60 million dollars. We’ll never know now, but if they were right, Hellickson just left a lot of money on the table. Despite those concerns, there is reason to believe that Hellickson could make more money in the long run by accepting the Qualifying Offer.
With only one above-average season in his career, teams were very likely to be wary of Hellickson’s continued success. If he can show that 2016 wasn’t a fluke he’s likely to get a contract significantly larger than 4/$60 million after the 2017 season, even with the stronger crop of free agents, while if he agreed to three- or four-year deal this offseason, it would likely be his last opportunity for a significant payday.
There’s also the chance that the Phillies trade Hellickson midseason. Due to the weak free agent crop, there will be some teams looking for rotation help around the trade deadline. If the Phillies are out of the playoff picture, Hellickson could be our best trade chip. If he were traded, he’d enter free agency in 2017 with no draft pick penalty. Without that penalty, he and his agent, the infamous Scott Boras, will be able to squeeze teams for more money.
For the Phillies, this represents something close to an optimal scenario. They get back their nominal staff ace with minimal risk due to the deal only lasting one year. If recent peak payrolls are any indication, the $17.2 million will not hamstring the club financially. It helps that the other four projected starters are all pre-arbitration.
Meanwhile, Hellickson will once again look to stabilize a rotation filled with young pitchers oozing with potential. He and Aaron Nola figure to lead a rotation that also features some combination of Vince Velasquez, Jerad Eickhoff, Jake Thompson, and Alec Asher. The rotation made a surprising leap from 29th in FIP in 2015 to 13th in 2016, and they will look to build on that success once again in 2017.