The Nationals have made a pair of on-paper transactions involving Jeremy Hellickson, as they released the right-hander from his original minor league deal and then re-signed him to a new contract with the same terms, SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo tweets. The move was made to avoid paying Hellickson a $100K retention bonus that was due to him as an Article XX(B) free agent. Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post reported on Saturday that the two sides had previously agreed to this arrangement.
Hellickson has only been in camp with the Nats for a little over a week, and has thrown only four innings of work this spring. Beyond just saving the $100K, then, the Nationals obviously wanted more time to stretch Hellickson out and properly gauge whether he could be a factor in their rotation plans. A.J. Cole is slated to work as Washington’s fifth starter for now, though the club has amassed some young and veteran depth options (Hellickson, Erick Fedde, Austin Voth, Edwin Jackson, Tommy Milone) in the minors and as non-roster invitees to Spring Training. There has been some speculation that Cole will eventually be moved into a long relief or spot starter role once Hellickson is fully ramped up.
As per the terms of both the old contract and the new, Hellickson will earn $2MM if he makes the big league roster, and he can earn up to $4MM more in incentives. The deal gives Hellickson an opt-out clause on May 1 if he hasn’t already made the Nats’ 25-man roster, and he will receive further opt-out opportunities every 15 days thereafter.
Hellickson, who turns 31 on April 8, is looking to rebound from a rough 2017 season that saw him post a 5.43 ERA, 5.3 K/9, and an ugly 1.9 HR/9 over 164 innings with the Phillies and Orioles. While homers had always been something of an issue for Hellickson throughout his career, he had never allowed more than 25 in a single season before surrendering 35 long balls last year. Never a big strikeout pitcher, Hellickson’s swinging-strike rate dropped to only 8.3% in 2017, and he also saw spikes in his contact rates and a drop in his ground-ball rate. Still, Hellickson put up solid numbers as recently as 2016, so there’s still hope that he could revive his fortunes with a change of scenery.