Would you believe that only two players in MLB have been a better bargain in 2018 than Aaron Nola?
Spotrac, the well-known contracts website, put out its list of baseball's best values so far this season and Nola ranks No. 1 among all starting pitchers.
He also ranks No. 3 among all players, behind only Boston's Mookie Betts and Cleveland's Jose Ramirez.
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Nola made his first All-Star team by going 12-3 with a 2.30 ERA in his first 20 starts. He leads the NL in wins, has the lowest home run rate in the league, ranks second in innings and ERA, third in WHIP and fourth in strikeouts.
He has legitimately pitched like a Cy Young-winner with nearly 60 percent of the season in the books.
At some point soon, the conversation will shift toward a long-term extension. Nola is set to go through the arbitration process for the first time this winter and cannot become a free agent until after the 2021 season.
This is the last season Nola will be this drastically underpaid relative to his performance. The Phils could explore a contract that buys out his three arbitration years and the first two or three free-agent years. They did this with Odubel Herrera.
League-wide, teams routinely do this with star players in order to save some money in those first couple post-arbitration years. Players, especially pitchers, value the long-term security because of the frequency of long-term arm injuries.
How much money are we talking? The Braves, in a similar position with Freddie Freeman before his first arbitration year, signed him to an eight-year, $135 million deal. It made sense for Freeman because it's life-changing money, and it made sense for the Braves because they got his first five post-arbitration years for an average of $21.3 million per year. That's a team-friendly deal for a perennial MVP candidate like Freeman.
The Cardinals, in the same spot with Carlos Martinez, struck a five-year, $51 million contract. It's a good deal for the Cards because they get Martinez's first two post-arb years for $23 million and hold club options for $17 million and $18 million the following two years.
That Martinez contract seems like more of a template for Nola than the Freeman megadeal, but Nola is a better and more accomplished pitcher than Martinez. If his extension has the same length as Martinez's, one would think it would be closer to $70 million than $50 million.
Regardless, Nola's cost-effectiveness is a major reason the Phillies are in first place at the All-Star break with a real chance to add top talent by the trade deadline and/or this offseason. If Nola was already making $25 million per year, the Phillies' spending options wouldn't be as seemingly limitless as they are right now.
A long-term extension with Nola would have obvious benefits to the Phils because it could allow them to save some money in 2022 and 2023, when more of their young players will have richer deals and the payroll will be more of a concern.