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Exploring the Starting Pitching Trade Market: Aaron Nola (PHI)

With rumors surrounding the Phillies that they may be headed towards cutting the payroll, one player is of big interest in Aaron Nola. He is obviously a starting pitcher the Yankees would be interested in, but do they have a good enough farm to trade for him? Let’s find out together.

 

Who Is Aaron Nola?

Originally drafted out of high school by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 22nd round of the 2011 MLB Draft, Nola opted to attend Louisiana State University (LSU). He would be a successful starter in the SEC, pitching to a 1.57 ERA and a 1.47 ERA over his sophomore and junior years. This would lead him to opt into the 2014 MLB Draft where he would be selected 7th Overall by the Philadelphia Phillies.

Coming out of a competitive SEC program, the Phillies were able to push Nola hard, starting him in the 2014 season at A-Advanced Clearwater and moving him to Double-A Reading after only just 6 starts. Continuing his play from his junior season earlier that same year, Nola would end with a combined 2.93 ERA across the two levels of the minors. Going into the 2015 season, Nola found himself a consensus Top-60 prospect (as high as 37 by Baseball Prospectus) and it would be his only prospect ranked season. He would spend the beginning of the season again in Double-A Reading and make a quick stop with Triple-A Lehigh Valley before making his MLB debut on July 21st, 2015. Ever since, Nola has been a mainstay in the Phillies rotation.

In 2016, Nola played for about half a season before he was sent to the 15-Day DL with a right elbow strain that ultimately ended his season. In 2017, Nola would find himself on the DL again through most of May with a lower back strain. However, ever since he has had a clean bill of health. This, combined with his performance on the mound, helped earn Nola a 4 Year/$45 Million extension before the 2019 season.

 

The Stats of Aaron Nola (2015-2020 and 2021 Projections):

Over parts of 6 years in the MLB, Aaron Nola has pitched to a 58-40 record with a 3.47 ERA over 139 starts and 842.2 innings. When looking at more advanced stats, he has a career 3.43 FIP, a 123 ERA+, and a 1.164 WHIP, all of which are very good numbers that would indicate a low-#1 or solid #2 man for a rotation.

While Nola has had only one stand-out year (2018) his numbers don’t skew incredibly towards it that you’d believe he is better than what he seems because his injury-shortened 2016 helps bring those numbers down after a bad half-year. Combined, most of his numbers stay pretty consistent across his other years, but it is slightly concerning that he has been unable to hit that top-level play again so far. Unfortunately for Nola, however, this has meant just 1 All-Star Game appearance (2018) and only two seasons with NL Cy Young votes (#3 in 2018 and #7 in 2020).

In the past two seasons, Nola pitched to a 3.72 ERA (120 ERA+) with a 3.81 FIP, a 1.217 WHIP, and 325 strikeouts (10.7 K/9 rate). While this isn’t great for what you’d want out of a solid #2, this numbers were all improved upon from the 2020 season. Regardless, at his salary of $11.25 AAV this is a steal for any team in baseball, which means his value is high if the Phillies were interested in trading him.

So, what should be expected of him in 2021? Hopefully good things as Baseball Reference has him projected from a 3.63 ERA over 176.0 innings, a 1.193 WHIP, and 202 strikeouts at a 10.3 K/9 rate. On the other side though, Fangraphs projects a worse season with a 3.90 ERA (3.94 FIP) over 190 innings, a 1.28 WHIP, and 207 strikeouts at a 9.8 K/9 rate. I’m going to believe much more heavily on the Baseball Reference projections here which seem to fall more in line with recent history and his career marks.

 

What Would it Take to Get Nola?

Again, we are going to go to my favorite tool with quickly assessing a players trade value. It’s by no means a perfect science, but it serves its purpose for what I need, so lets check his value according to BaseballTradeValues.com.

Today (these numbers change often) Nola’s value is placed at 107.3 MTV. This is the second-highest we’ve looked at this week, and only slightly behind Luis Castillo (which we saw in the comments was a very unlikely trade target). So, because we can already understand that on the surface a trade for Nola would be a move to massively gut the high end of the farm, let’s check to see if there are any negative-value players the Phillies may be willing to ship too.

On this list we end up with the following players:

Bryce Harper = -90.7 MTV

Andrew McCutchen = -18 MTV

Scott Kingery = -17.7 MTV

Jean Segura = -8.1 MTV

It seems like the Phillies know how to sign guys to team friendly deals. While our Editor-in-Chief suggested a move for both Nola and Harper at the end of November (of which I would also be a big fan because it would be an incredible move), the people at BaseballTradeValues make it impossible to have him trade over. So, instead lets consider a different move to help make this trade (in theory) obtainable by adding Scott Kingery and Jean Segura (a combined -25.7 MTV).

The Yankees for 2021 are looking for a middle infielder, and while they are dragging their toes on potentially bringing back DJ LeMahieu this may be an interesting proposition. Jean Segura is a shortstop who will provide a solid bat and solid defense (neither great, but solid) at a salary of 2/$29.7M (at $14M AAV) over the next two seasons. That’s moderately above what DJ’s current “ask” at $25M per year is. Scott Kingery is a utility infielder who had a very bad 2020 season over jus 36 games. At a salary of 3/$18.75M (at $4M AAV) he is the perfect guy to take over Tyler Wade’s spot on the team as a player with actual MLB upside while playing around the diamond (he can also man some center field, which would be nice). Combined, this would save the Phillies nearly $50M over the next 3 years while allowing them to pivot that money to J.T. Realmuto and get stop-gaps on a weak 2020 market (Andrelton Simmons, Kolten Wong, Cesar Hernandez reunion, etc.) at much lower prices.

With this as the trade (Nola, Segura, and Kingery), the deal would have an MTV of 81.50 for the Yankees to hit. As a reminder, this is the value of the Yankees top young MLB players/prospects:

Deivi Garcia = 31.1

Jasson Dominguez = 30.9

Jordan Montgomery = 29.6

Clarke Schmidt = 22.3

Clint Frazier = 22.1

In taking away Nola, the Phillies would likely want to get an MLB-ready starter in return, of which the Yankees could provide Montgomery (+29.6 MTV). Because Nola would require a Top-100 prospect in return, the Yankees could also offer Clarke Schmidt (+22.3 MTV). With Segura and Kingery, the Yankees could use shortstop Oswald Peraza (#4 Prospect, +11.2 MTV) and second baseman Ezequiel Duran (#26, +6.2 MTV), and then throw in a lottery arm like Luis Medina (#11, + 5.4 MTV). All told, the value the Yankees would provide would be at 74.70 MTV.

Like with all of these ideas, the Yankees are hard pressed to add talent that will get them extremely close to the subjective value of BTV without adding an ungodly amount of prospects. However, a deal for a #2 pitcher that includes two semi-salary relief guys for an MLB pitcher, a Top-100 prospect, borderline Top-100 prospect, a lottery arm and a lottery infielder does seem like a good value for the Phillies all things considered.

Would I take it? I’d lean towards yes. It fills some infield holes for the Yankees and provides some legitimate power behind Cole in the rotation. It wouldn’t cripple the team financially long-term (as would taking on a Joey Votto in a Castillo trade or Bryce Harper in a similar move for Nola), and it wouldn’t be an insane loss in prospects either. I’m trying to talk my way to a moderate feeling towards it, but I’m a fan of this framework.

 

Article By: Ethan Semendinger

Date Published: December 22nd, 2020

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