For a year, Hellickson, Phils an ideal match
PHILADELPHIA >> For nine innings, for 106 artistic pitches, for floating changeups and plunging curve balls, the Phillies Saturday night had their ideal pitcher.
Jeremy Hellickson, 29, former Rookie of the Year, pitching stylist, was rolling, tormenting the Miami Marlins with his change of speeds, holding them to three hits, pitching a shutout. At the end of a frayed season, the Phils, at least, would have that.
“That was fun,” Pete Mackanin exhaled. “Hellickson. What a performance.”
The Marlins never with a chance, Hellickson would complete his second career shutout and his first since 2011, when he blanked the Orioles for the Rays.
By the time he’d improved to 12-9, the most wins by a Phillies pitcher since Cliff Lee’s 14 in 2013, his scoreless streak had reached 14.1 innings. He’d thrown 73 pitches for strikes, only one of which went for an extra-base hit.
For an operation trading in rookies and other hints and promises, Hellickson was a pro’s pro, winning with his talent, with his attitude, with his know-how. He didn’t overpower hitters, he overwhelmed them, striking out five, walking none.
“He’s been outstanding for us all year,” Mackanin said. “Great guy. Good worker. Very focused.”
Check. Check. Check.
But how about paycheck? Of all the decisions facing the Phillies early in the offseason, it will be what to do with Hellickson, their best starting pitcher and one of their best players at any position. As much as Hellickson has done everything he could for the Phillies this season, he has done even more for his career earnings. An unrestricted free-agent-to-be, he has won himself some cash. And since the Phillies have vaults full of that, they easily could afford the expense. It is not, though, that simple.
Hellickson will blast into the free-agent market as one of the most appealing starting pitchers. His agent Scott Boras having a compulsion for multiyear deals, Hellickson can expect up to a $45 million package over three years.
Because he was entering his contract year, the Diamondbacks offloaded Hellickson to the Phillies for a garage-sale price in minor-league arm Sam McWilliams. For his $7 million annual salary, Hellickson was perfect for 162 nights of temp work. He could add a veteran presence. He could limit the stress on a bullpen. A professional, he had some status. But he did not have a room-suffocating attitude.
If he proved special, the Phillies knew they could move him at the deadline for some value. If the market was not there, they could retain him and wait until after the offseason to give him a oneyear qualifying offer of approximately $17 million. If Hellickson accepted, the Phils would gladly pay. If he rejected it and sought
a longer-term deal in free agency, the Phils would wind up with an added pick at the end of the first draft round. All around, it was a splendid play by Andy MacPhail and Matt Klentak.
Hellickson did his job. He won games and he provided a template for professionalism for Vince Velasquez, Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson, Adam Morgan and others. The Phillies, too, proved therapeutic to Hellickson, allowing him a stress-free season.
“I felt good every time out,” he said. “I felt good in between starts, recovering like I was early in my career. I was able to work on stuff on my bullpen days a little more than I have in the past.”
The Phillies’ decision will be difficult. How can
a club about to finish its fourth consecutive losing season simply dismiss its best pitcher? But the Phils have been committed to a strength-in-numbers approach to their next successful starting staff. And they should have seen enough from their young starters to mine four or five for next season. Then, rather than investing close to $50 million in Hellickson, they could grab the bonus pick and spend the money on hitters.
Klentak should be able to find another one-year rent-a-veteran pitcher in 2017. And if the young stable of arms is not ready to contend for a division championship in 2018, the whole project will have been a failure and any multi-year Hellickson investment would have been wasteful.
The Phillies cannot lose in the Hellickson transaction. They can have him for another year at a price they can afford. Or they can add a high draft pick.
Their choice. But that’s it. One year. Or none.
“I am just feeling really good,” Hellickson said. “And I want to try and finish strong.”
Hellickson likely will make two more starts. The way the schedule breaks, both should be on the road. That means he could have made his last Citizens Bank Park start for the Phillies. If so, he has given the fans and the franchise a season to appreciate.
To contact Jack McCaffery, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @ JackMcCaffery