Aaron Nola, 30, reportedly signed a seven-year, 172 million-dollar extension today. Considering that he has a 3.38 FIP over 1,422 innings pitched and produced 33.9 fWAR, this is a team-friendly deal for the Phillies. The market rate for one win above replacement (WAR) is approximately $10 million annually. Bear in mind that this baseline figure may increase over the coming years if MLB attendance continues to increase. So, to make this deal work for the Phils, Nola only has to average around 2 and a half WAR per season. Of course, pitchers typically age at a more accelerated rate and have more injury risk, but Nola should be able to pitch well enough on the front end of the contract to make the deal worthwhile for Philadelphia. Many fans are already arguing that the Stros should give a similar deal to Framber Valdez; however, for several reasons, it would be foolish for the Astros to do so.
Framber Valdez still has two arbitration years left. This year, Valdez is projected to make $12 million in arbitration. Assuming his performance does not drop off dramatically, Valdez’s third arb year will probably give him around $15 million in salary. So, the cost of an extension for Valdez today, who is also 30, will be slightly cheaper than Nola’s. Still, it would be unwise for the Stros to buy out his free agent years.
First, Valdez’s track record is considerably less than Nola’s. At age 30, Aaron Nola has completed eight seasons with 2+ WAR; Valdez only has three. Nola’s career WAR is 33.9, while Valdez’s is only 12.7. Past success does not guarantee future success, but a longer track record certainly gives a GM more confidence.
Secondly, while Valdez had a productive 2023, he showed significant regression in areas that were traditionally his strengths. Framber’s groundball percentage decreased by 12 percentage points from 2022; consequently, his home run per nine innings rate jumped by .37. Even more concerning is that his second-half FIP was over 1.5 runs higher than in the first half. With a longer track record, I would have more confidence in Framber’s ability to make adjustments. However, it is very likely that Valdez will face a steep decline in performance.
Lastly, the Astros have a different payroll situation than the Phillies. Houston not only seems to have more financial constraints than Philly but also has several players who are about to get a substantial payday. Between Tucker, Bregman, Valdez, and Altuve, there just isn’t enough money to pay all of them $20+ million a season. Given his age, position, and recent regression, Valdez makes the least sense to extend out of that core.
Money will be tight over the next few seasons, as the Astros have many players that will require a significant pay increase. As such, Crane and Brown will need to be judicious about how they spend the team’s money, so no more signings like Abreu’s or Montero’s. The smart move will be to let Valdez walk and try to extend some combination of Tucker, Altuve, and, Bregman.