3-0. 1.88 ERA. 0.71 WHIP. Opponent batting average of .169. 3 walks in 24 IP.
At first glance, those look like the numbers of a bonafide ace. These stats actually belong to the Phillies Opening Day starter and best pitcher so far this season, who isn’t exactly seen as an ace around baseball, Jeremy Hellickson.
Hellickson, the 2011 AL Rookie of the Year with the Rays, has looked as good thus far this year as he ever has in his career. The just recently turned 30-year-old is the elder statesman of this young Phillies rotation. He’s in his 7th year in the league. The rest of the rotation, consisting of Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, and Zach Eflin, have combined to play just about 6-7 full seasons combined. You get that number if you combine Eickhoff’s one full season, Velasquez’s one full season, Nola’s two full seasons, and a combination of cups of coffee for each guy in other years. It’s clear how much more experience J-Hell brings to the table than the rest of his teammates.
Hellickson came over in a trade from the Diamondbacks in November of 2015 as a low-risk high-reward type of acquisition, and in his year plus as a Phillie, he has looked like a high reward. After looking like his 2011 Rookie of the Year award was a fluke, considering his sub-par numbers from 2012-2015, he proved that he’s still got something left in the tank last year in his first season with the Phillies. In 32 starts, he produced a 12-10 record in 189 IP with a 3.71 ERA and 154 strikeouts, while putting up a 1.15 WHIP. He and Jerad Eickhoff carried the Phillies rotation for the whole season, and Hellickson’s solid year was rewarded with a $17.5 million qualifying offer from the Phils which Hellickson happily accepted.
The thing about that qualifying offer is that it only stands for this season. That means that the Phillies will have to decide the future of their current ace, possibly sooner than later. Hellickson stands in the same position as some other players on this team, including Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis amongst others, that are now seen as veterans who have proven that they can produce at the major league level. Although they have proven themselves, they sit this position while the Phillies have plenty of young, but unproven, talent and depth behind them.
That presents us with this question: What should the Phillies do with Jeremy Hellickson?
I asked our Twitter followers this week what they would do, and here are the results:
In a close race, it looks like most of us are pretty split on what to do here. 45% of our followers think the Phils should keep Hellickson and sign him long term to stick around in this rotation with the rest of the young guns, while a pretty close 38% think that Matt Klentak and company should get rid of him while he is at his highest trade value to get a nice return. 17% even think that the Phils could afford to wait until the July trade deadline to let go of him, which could mean that he could either have his stock rise even more, or he could drop off in some sort of way and hurt the chances of the Phillies getting anything of value for him in trade. Luckily, no one voted for the 4th option, which would be to simply let him walk in the offseason. This would take his likely high 2018 salary off the books, but to get nothing back in return for a rebuilding team who desperately needs assets at all positions would be a travesty.
Here’s my personal take on the matter; I say keep him, and here’s why:
Hellickson is making $17.5 million on that qualifying offer this year, and for the Phillies to sign him long term, he will likely have to make an annual salary somewhere around that number, whether it be the same, or something closer to $20 million. This seems like a pretty hefty number, but think about it. This team has almost no money on the books in 2018. Other than Odubel Herrera’s very team-friendly contract, everyone is either signed through 2018 still on their rookie deals, or they’re not signed for 2018 at all. The Phillies have plenty of money in the bank to be able to afford Hellickson’s likely high contract and will still be able to pay players in different areas of the club. Eventually, they’ll have to pay some of their younger cornerstones, such as Franco, Nola, etc. Until then, though, get the most out of a player like Hellickson who could very well be in his prime as we speak. If the team does decide to trade him, though, I’d do it sooner than later. His value right now is as high as it has ever been, and if Clay Buchholz is any indication of what could happen, J-Hell could drop off at anytime. I believe, though, that he can maintain very good numbers as the anchor of this staff for a few more years, so why not keep him around? Sure, there are prospects such as Jake Thompson, Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta and more who will eventually show that they deserve to get the call to the big leagues for good, but having Hellickson around won’t hurt anyone.
The Phillies have a problem, but it’s a good problem. They can be flexible with their final decisions on multiple players, but hopefully they end up making the right one with J-Hell.
Photo: Thomas Kirk (lefty516) (Via: Flickr)
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