The Red Sox will have to work quickly to reinforce their starting rotation, as their aggressive former president of baseball operations has already taken a top arm off the board.
On Sunday, Dave Dombrowski’s Philadelphia Phillies and Aaron Nola agreed to terms on a seven-year deal worth $172 million.
Nola, 30, has spent his entire career in red pinstripes thus far and seems destined to become the rare Major Leaguer of his era to continue that to the end. The Phillies drafted him seventh overall in 2014, and he debuted just 13 months later. Over nine years, he owns a career 3.72 ERA, 3.38 FIP, and 1.129 WHIP in the regular season. He’s finished between third and seventh in National League Cy Young voting three times since 2018 when he also became a first-time All-Star and finished 13th in the NL MVP race.
For a Phillies team that has undergone immense turmoil and transformation over the last decade, Nola has been the rare constant, so it comes as little surprise that they pulled out all the stops to get a deal done early. He was with them during the frustrating, often seemingly-endless, downward spiral and malaise that followed their 2007-11 “Golden Era,” and was crucial to them ending their postseason drought last year.
The 2022 Phillies were only the third Wild Card team but overcame the St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves, and San Diego Padres to win their first pennant since 2009. They went all the way to Game 6 of the World Series. They were a playoff team again this year but fell to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLCS. Nola has nine career postseason starts under his belt over these two Octobers, including four scoreless performances of at least six innings apiece.
While re-signing with the Phillies seemed the likely outcome of his free agency, Nola was an appealing target for the Red Sox for one simple, yet crucial reason: health. Since his first full season in the Majors in 2016, he’s made 20 or more starts every year, and at least 32 in each of the last five 162-game seasons. No Red Sox pitcher made 30 starts in 2023, and only Nick Pivetta reached the mark in 2022. Boston hasn’t had a pitcher with at least five 30-start seasons since Jon Lester between 2008-13.
Dombrowski used to work this quickly for Boston, bringing in top arms early in consecutive offseasons. Between Nov. 13 and Dec. 4, 2015, he acquired Craig Kimbrel from the San Diego Padres and signed David Price to a then-franchise record seven-year, $217 million contract. On Dec. 6 the following year, he traded four prospects to get Chris Sale. All three were crucial to the historic 2018 season and World Series championship.
Nola was the first domino to fall, and now that he has, others won’t be far behind. The free-agent starting pitching market is headlined by a trio of elite arms in Shohei Ohtani (who won’t pitch in 2024), Nippon star Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and 2023 NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell. They could also target newly-minted World Series champ Jordan Montgomery or attempt a reunion with Eduardo Rodriguez, and of course, they have enough talent in their farm system to swing some impressive trades.
If the Red Sox are serious about building a winner this winter, Craig Breslow might want to take a page out of Dombrowski’s book.