After pitching just shy of 200 innings in 2016 and posting a 3.2 WAR (per FanGraphs), Philadelphia Phillies right-handed pitcher Jeremy Hellickson had about as good of an April as one can have.
Hellickson, who turned 30 on April 8, went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 30 innings in the first month of the season.
Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reported last week that the Phillies may be willing to take on some of what remains of Hellickson's $17.2 million salary at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline if it means they will get a better trade return for their Opening Day starter. While that makes sense and remains the most likely course of action for the Phillies, the club should consider extending Hellickson.
For as steady as Jerad Eickhoff is, Hellickson has also become one of the more reliable pitchers that the team has had in some time. He's not a front-of-the-line starting pitcher for a contending team, but he's someone who is going to pitch close to 200 innings each year and rarely delivers a clunker.
Even with the amount of young pitching depth that the Phillies have at the upper levels of their farm system or in the majors -- Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively, Jake Thompson, Mark Appel -- it's important to have at least a couple pitchers in the rotation that you are certain what you will get from them.
None of the five aforementioned pitchers have had extended success at the big league level and the duo of Vince Velasquez and Aaron Nola isn't as far along in their development as many thought they would be by this time. Velasquez posted a 6.33 ERA in April and there's many that think he would be better served pitching at the back-end of the bullpen. Aaron Nola has flashed front-of-the-rotation ability, but he had an arm injury last year and is currently on the disabled list with a lower back injury.
Certainly, the Phillies hope that some of their young pitching will live up to their potential and become sure things, but in the meantime there's an argument to be made that keeping Hellickson with Eickhoff together is important for the team.
A benchmark that the Phillies could look at is the 4-year/$50 million deal that Ricky Nolasco signed with the Minnesota Twins in November of 2013, just shy of his 31st birthday. The deal largely hasn't worked out, but both in terms of years and the average annual salary of $12 million, it might not be too far off from what it would take to sign Hellickson to a long-term deal.
Whether or not Hellickson and his agent Scott Boras would be content with signing a deal in that neighborhood (and forfeiting his chance to be on the open market) remains to be seen. Boras did get a brief chance to gauge how teams felt about Hellickson on the open market a year ago, but that was when he had a qualifying offer attached to him. As part of the new CBA, the Phillies can't extend a qualifying offer to Hellickson again this offseason, meaning that any potential free-agent suitors wouldn't have to forfeit a draft pick to sign him.
Perhaps the best course of action for general manager Matt Klentak to take would be to keep an open dialogue with Boras about a potential deal, as well as potential trade suitors. It wouldn't be all that different from how the team handled Cole Hamels' impending free-agency prior to the 2012 non-waiver trade deadline. If the Phillies are able to work out a deal with Hellickson prior to the trade deadline, that's great. If not, he's a near lock to be traded before the trade deadline because the team cannot afford to have him potentially walk in free-agency this offseason.
- Hellickson probably had as good of a month as anyone on the team, but Cesar Hernandez's .323 average in the month of April probably made him the early favorite to represent the Phillies in Miami at this summer's All-Star Game. Aaron Altherr had a very nice month of April, so if he gets enough at-bats he could be a candidate. Odubel Herrera will also likely have something to say about who the team's All-Star is.
- As P.J. Hyduke said to me on Twitter, Saturday's Phillies loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers was probably the most painful loss since the team lost Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS 1-0. After Neris gave up his second consecutive monster home run, I probably would have made a pitching change. I certainly would have made a mound visit.
- This is an important time for Pete Mackanin to make sure that Saturday's loss and a rough weekend in Los Angeles don't spiral into a prolonged losing streak. His 2018 club option still hasn't been picked up...
- Maikel Franco finished April with 21 RBIs. That number feels very empty, however, as he batted just .213.
- After his first three starts of the 2017 season, Zach Eflin has a 1.89 ERA. His FIP (4.68) and xFIP (4.64) suggest that he'll come back down to earth, though.
- Tommy Joseph's bat was very cold in April, but it's hard not to be impressed by his arm at first base, especially when you consider that Ryan Howard's greatest flaw may have been throwing to second base.
- In 2016, Joseph hit .292 with 18 home runs and 45 RBIs in 212 at-bats in night games. During the day, he struggled, hitting just .184 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in 103 at-bats. He's gotten off to a poor start overall in 2017, but he's again been worse in day games than night games, as he's hitting .189 in 37 at-bats at night, as opposed to .130 in 23 at-bats during the day. I'm not a neurologist, but this is a strange trend and a Twitter user recently suggested to me that maybe his concussion history has something to do with his struggles when it is lighter outside. At the very least, this is an interesting theory to potentially at least partially explain this strange trend.
- Cameron Rupp did have three hits yesterday, but he also got picked off and allowed a passed ball. Andrew Knapp posted a .304 batting average in his first 23 big league at-bats in April, while Rupp hit .222 in 54 at-bats. Perhaps with it looking more and more like Jorge Alfaro will be the team's full-time catcher next year, this would be a good time to give Knapp an extended look. This look would allow you to evaluate whether the 25-year-old could be Alfaro's long-term backup or even if the Phillies should consider changing his position.
- Bryce Harper ended April with a slash line of .391/.509/.772 with nine home runs and 26 RBIs. As I wrote before the season, stop saying you won't support him if the Phillies are able to sign him after 2018.