Aaron Nola’s new deal with the Phillies is the winter’s biggest free agent headline to date, as Nola returned to Philadelphia for seven years and $172MM. Reports filtered in that the Braves also had significant interest in Nola, and that the right-hander turned down larger offers in order to remain with his longtime team, and the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Scott Lauber shed some light on those other suitors in a piece from earlier this week.
The Dodgers were another major bidder, Lauber writes, with the specific phrasing that Los Angeles “put a finger on the scale at $165MM.” It isn’t exactly clear from this wording whether or not the Dodgers perhaps just floated this figure or if they made a formal offer to Nola’s representatives, yet it is fair to assume the latter is true given the seemingly quick timeline of events, considering that the Phillies and Braves were both bidding hard and Nola wanted to decide sooner rather than later about his future.
As for other teams, Atlanta made a starting offer of $162MM over six years, and then made a final offer worth presumably more. Beyond the Braves and Dodgers, the Phillies thought more team were also involved in the Nola sweepstakes, “with at least one other club offering more” than Philadelphia’s $172MM.
Naturally it isn’t at all surprising that Nola drew such high-dollar interest, given his status as one of the top free agents available in this offseason’s market. MLBTR ranked Nola fifth on our list of the winter’s top 50 free agents, and projected him for a six-year, $150MM contract. He ended up getting more overall money than our projection, if less of an average annual value stretched out over a seventh year of a contract, yet the Phillies’ ability to just get close to comparable offers from other teams was enough to seal the deal. “Nola strongly preferred staying with the Phillies, and his agent Joe Longo let it be known that $172 million would get it done,” Lauber writes.
Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos typically likes to make most of his bigger moves earlier in the offseason, and that trend has continued. The bullpen has been a major early focus, as Reynaldo Lopez was just signed to a three-year deal worth at least $30MM in guaranteed money, and Atlanta retained Joe Jimenez and Pierce Johnson before free agency officially opened. The Braves were also very aggressive in cutting down their list of arbitration-eligible players, with a series of trades, releases, and non-tenders that ultimately shaved a decent chunk of money off the payroll.
The exact size of that 2024 payroll and what Anthopoulos has to work with isn’t yet known, leading to quite a bit of speculation about what exactly the Braves are planning. Obviously landing Nola would have taken up a big portion (if not all) of whatever payroll space Atlanta has left, and the Braves are already on pace to top their team-record $203MM payroll from last year. The Braves are also set to surpass the luxury tax threshold for the second consecutive year, which adds another interesting wrinkle — signing a qualifying offer-rejecting free agent like Nola would’ve cost the Braves two draft picks and $1MM in international bonus money as compensation.
Under Anthopoulos, the Braves have usually made measured strikes in the free agent market. Most of Anthopoulos’ biggest moves have been trades, with his free agent signings usually limited to veterans on one-year or two-year deals (if at a high average annual value). Marcell Ozuna’s four-year, $65MM deal from the 2020-21 is far and away the biggest contract Anthopoulos has given to a free agent, and Nola’s contact would’ve drastically exceeded Ozuna’s number.
While the Dodgers are no stranger to big-money deals, it is worth noting that Nola at a $165MM price tag would’ve also represented the biggest free agent contract of Andrew Friedman’s tenure running the L.A. front office. Freddie Freeman’s six-year, $162MM pact from the 2021-22 offseason is the current benchmark, and the fact that Los Angeles was willing to spend so much on Nola is an early sign of how aggressive the team plans to be this winter.
Signing the durable Nola would’ve been a huge help to a Dodgers rotation that is lacking in experience, as the team is expected to add two or three pitchers to the group via free agency and trades. This is alongside the Dodgers’ other big pursuit of the winter, as Los Angeles is seen as one of the favorites — if perhaps the favorite — to sign Shohei Ohtani to what will almost surely be the biggest guaranteed contract in baseball history. The Dodgers may be way under the luxury tax threshold for now, but with Ohtani’s situation, severe pitching needs, and some other roster holes to be addressed, L.A. doesn’t appear to have any reservations over surpassing the tax for the fourth straight year.
One team absent from Nola’s market was Boston, as the Red Sox “weren’t meaningfully involved in bidding,” according to Alex Speier of the Boston Globe. This tracks with reports from mid-November suggesting that while the Sox were interested in a top-tier starting pitching addition, Jordan Montgomery and Yoshinobu Yamamoto were the team’s preferred options ahead of Nola and Blake Snell.