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February 17, 2017

Hellickson thankful for Boras, happy to be back with Phillies

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Three months ago, Scott Boras stood in the courtyard area of a posh Phoenix hotel and did what he does best: the super agent talked up one of his clients, right-handed pitcher Jeremy Hellickson.

“He’s probably the foremost, under-30 (years old) pitcher on the market,” Boras said at the General Managers Meetings in November. “He has a lot of components that tell you why he’s successful. His command, changeup, breaking ball are creating a lot of interest for a lot of teams, and in a marketplace where the free agent market is short on starting pitching. It’s very advantageous for him.”

But less than a week later, Boras was on a flight bound for Des Moines, Iowa, to deliver a very different message to Hellickson. You can’t blame the agent for making a sales pitch.

Hellickson, however, was grateful to have the agent who is arguably the most plugged in in the industry on his side.

“He pretty much told me how he thought it was going to happen, and that’s how it did happen, so, I’m thankful to have him,” Hellickson said. “And obviously coming back here made it that mush easier to accept it.”

Back in November, the Phillies tendered a qualifying offer (worth $17.2 million) to Hellickson. A week later, he accepted it, declining the chance to test his value on the free agent market.

From the Phillies standpoint, it was a gamble worth their while. With a skimpy payroll and the opportunity to recoup a draft pick if he signed elsewhere, the Phillies were OK with either decision Hellickson decided to make.

For Hellickson, it was either taking the big one-way payday (more money that he’d made in his previous seven years combined) or trying to score a lucrative, multi-year deal on the free agent market.

“The first few days I was set on declining it,” Hellickson said, “There really wasn’t too much stress involved. But then after hearing from Scott after the (GM Meetings), I didn’t know what I was going to do.”

Hellickson made the final call a night before the week deadline expired.

“I feel like I made the right decision,” Hellickson said. “And seeing how it all went down, I definitely feel like I made the right decision.”

Here’s how “it all went down” for free agent starting pitchers this winter: they didn’t get paid. After a previous offseason that saw several starters score handsome multi-year deals (Mike Leake, 5-years and $80 million; Wei-Yen Chen, 5-$80; J.A. Happ, 3-$36 million), the best contract awarded to a starting pitcher this winter came when the Dodgers re-signed left-hander Rich Hill to a three-year, $48 million contract at the Winter Meetings.

How notable free agent starting pitchers fared this winter:

 Andrew Cashner 1-year, $10 million  
 Bartolo Colon1-year, $12.5 million  
 R.A. Dickey1-year, $8 million 
 Doug Fisterunsigned 
 Jason Hammel 2-years, $16 million
 Jeremy Hellickson 1-year, $17.2 million*  
Rich Hill 3-years, $48 million  
Derek Holland 1-year, $6 million  
 Charlie Morton 2-years, $14 million  
 Ivan Nova 3-years, $26 million  
Jake Peavy unsigned 
 Tyson Ross1-year, $6 million  
 Edinson Volquez2-years, $22 million  

* accepted qualifying offer

Only five starters received multi-year deals and they all paled in comparison to the one-year, $17.2 deal that Hellickson got via the qualifying offer.

“It kind of went how we thought,” said Hellickson, who remained curious and followed the free agent market even after returning to the Phillies.

Thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement agreed upon this winter, Hellickson will hit the open market next winter without a compensatory draft pick attached, and thus, should be more attractive to potential suitors. And then, perhaps, he’ll score the long-term security he talked about when he sat in the same seat inside the Phillies clubhouse in Clearwater a year ago.

“Just stay healthy and try to do what I did last year,” Hellickson said. “I think that all starts with feeling good and being healthy for the whole year. I think if that happens, then we’ll see that happens.”

Hellickson, the Phillies Opening Day starter in 2016, will once again pitch at the top of a rotation that includes fellow veteran Clay Buchholz, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, and Aaron Nola. The soon-to-be 30-year-old is coming off a season when he went 2-10 with a 3.71 ERA, and a 1.15 WHIP, and a career-best 3.42 strikeout-to-walk in 32 starts.

Hellickson said seeing the Phillies add Pat Neshek and Howie Kendrick before he accepted the qualifying offer “made it a little easier.” He saw the front office making an attempt to improve the big league roster, something that continued throughout a winter when the Phillies also added former closer Joaquin Benoit, All-Star outfielder Michael Saunders, and long-time Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz after Hellickson came back aboard.

“I think we’re going to be pretty good,” Hellickson said.

And if they’re not a very good team and they consider moving Hellickson before the July 31 trade deadline? Hellickson laughed.

“I think I’ve been in this situation for like four years in a row now,” Hellickson said. “Especially with the Rays, I feel like I’ve been in that situation since I was a rookie. It’s easy to kind of block out – not completely block it out – but just not think about it anymore.”

According to a report earlier this month, Hellickson was on the verge of being traded to the Marlins last July, but a deal couldn’t be worked out after another deal Miami made had to be re-worked.

“I saw that,” Hellickson said. “I wasn’t (aware of it), not at all. I’m glad it didn’t happen. … I like it here.”

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21