Agent Scott Boras wouldn’t comment definitively on whether Jeremy Hellickson plans to accept or reject the Phillies’ $17.2MM qualifying offer on Wednesday, writes CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury, but Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets that Hellickson has been advised to do so. Additionally, FanRag’s Jon Heyman reports that Hellickson is leaning toward declining the offer.
It’d come as a shock if Hellickson were to accept the QO, as he’s one of only a select few starters that can reasonably expect to command a strong multi-year deal this winter. Hellickson joins lefty Rich Hill and fellow righty Ivan Nova atop a historically thin market for starting pitching. On the heels of a 3.71 ERA with 7.3 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 and a 40.7 percent ground-ball rate in 189 innings of work, Hellickson has a strong enough case that we pegged him seventh among free agents this winter and projected a four-year, $60MM contract for the former AL Rookie of the Year. And, as Heyman points out, Hellickson’s quality work dates back to the second half of the 2015 campaign with the D-backs. While that year was a disappointment overall, Hellickson did indeed have a nice run to close out the year, logging a 3.86 ERA with 7.2 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and a 42.8 percent grounder rate following the All-Star Game — numbers that look quite similar to his 2016 output.
As Salisbury writes, Boras said there’s already been considerable interest in Hellickson, which is to be expected given the dearth of options in free agency. “In this market, he’s probably the foremost young, under-30 pitcher,” said Boras. “You know, he had a 3.71 ERA in Philadelphia, which is an offensive ballpark. … He’s a guy that’s got the highest spin rate on a breaking ball. He has a lot of components that tell you why he’s successful — his command, changeup, breaking ball — and that’s creating a lot of interest for a lot of teams. And in a free-agent marketplace short on starting pitching — it’s very advantageous for him.”
If Hellickson does hit the open market — which seems exceptionally likely — it’s difficult to envision him re-signing with the Phillies. General manager Matt Klentak spoke to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi about Hellickson today at the GM Meetings (video link), telling him: “The fully honest answer is I’m happy and content either way. If we get Jeremy Hellickson back on a one-year deal, that’s great. He’s really good, and having a starting pitcher on a short-term deal is something that I’ll take every time. Conversely, if he ends up testing free agency, I’ll be rooting for him. I hope he gets every penny he’s worth, but we’ll be happy to take the draft pick.”
Hellickson and the other nine players that received qualifying offers from their respective teams have until Monday to determine whether they’ll accept or reject the offer, although any of those free agents can technically sign a deal before that deadline (which would be considered the equivalent of rejecting the QO). That’s a rare outcome, of course, though Michael Cuddyer signed a two-year deal with the Mets two years ago in the week between receiving a QO from the Rockies and the deadline to accept or decline. However, there’s been no indication that any of the free agents to receive a QO are anywhere near a decision.