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November 07, 2016

Phillies make Hellickson qualifying offer (and hope he won't accept)

PHOENIX – Matt Klentak arrived at the General Managers Meetings at the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia on Monday and made a $17.2 million gamble.

But even if he loses, it won’t be a bet that’ll crush his rebuilding club in 2017.

The Phillies made free agent Jeremy Hellickson a qualifying offer prior to Monday’s deadline, Klentak said. By tendering the $17.2 million offer to Hellickson (a figure that’s created figure by the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball), the Phillies are guaranteed to get a compensatory draft pick (before the second round of the 2017 draft, likely between picks 25 and 30) should he sign with another team this winter.

Hellickson has a week to take the Phillies up on the $17.2 qualifying offer, a one-year salary that would eclipse the amount of money he’s earned in his entire seven-year career ($16.31 million). It’s possible he could accept, depending on how his agent (Scott Boras) feels the market will treat Hellickson this winter.

Any team that signs Hellickson forfeits its own 2017 first-round pick (unless it finished with one of the worst 10 records in baseball in 2016; then it forfeits its second-round pick).

But in a weak starting pitcher’s market – the top options other than Hellickson are probably Jason Hammel, Ivan Nova, and 36-year-old Rich Hill, a trio of pitchers who won't be attached to qualifying offers – the Phils are surely banking on another team offering the dependable Hellickson a multi-year deal. When you’re weighing the now vs. the later, would surrendering a draft pick be bad business for a contending team trying to win next year, like the Dodgers, Orioles, or Tigers?

It probably all depends on how the other 29 general managers in Arizona this week evaluate Hellickson, a former American League Rookie of the Year who has gone 61-58 with a 3.90 ERA in 174 major league games (167 starts) with the Phillies, Diamondbacks and Rays. Remember, it was only a little more than three months ago that no one value Hellickson enough to meet the Phillies price at the trade deadline.

A week ago, we took a stab at predicting how the Hellickson process will play out in the coming week(s) and, within that story, compared the Phils veteran to three similar, middle-of-the-road starters who hit the market (and were paid handsomely) last winter. But among that trio (Mike Leake, Wei-Yen Chen, and J.A. Happ) only Chen was attached to a qualifying offer.

Still, the Miami Marlins, hoping to jump into the NL East race with the Mets and Nationals, didn’t view that (forfeiting a pick) as too big of a stumbling block: they signed Chen to a lucrative $80 million deal. The lesson learned: it only takes one team to value Hellickson enough to give him a multi-year deal this winter.

But if Hellickson and Boras don’t see a similar market developing, and decide to accept what amounts to a one-year, $17.2 million deal with the Phillies next week, it would not negatively affect the team beyond preventing them from recouping a comp pick. Before arbitration, the Phillies have just $24.2 million currently allocated to their Opening Day payroll and those dollars are all for players who will not play for them in 2017: free agent Ryan Howard ($10 million buyout), free agent Charlie Morton ($1 million buyout), perennially-injured Matt Harrison ($13.2 million).

The Phillies can afford to take a $17.2 million hit in 2017. And they’re also likely to add a veteran starter this winter, so if that happens to be Hellickson next week, they’ll have one they are already familiar with to place toward the top of their rotation.

And, should that happen, the Phils will likely look to deal Hellickson before the trade deadline again, and both he and Boras will hope the team finds a suitor: players traded midseason are not eligible to receive a qualifying offer.

But both Hellickson and the Phillies are obviously hoping it doesn’t come to all of that, and that the pitcher gets some certainty in the form of more guaranteed dollars and a longer stay with a possible contender via a multi-year deal, while the Phils receive a valuable comp pick for their Monday gamble.

Hellickson, who turns 30 in April, was 12-10 with a 3.71 ERA in 32 starts with the Phillies last season. He had a career-best 3.42 strikeout-to-walk rate and his 1.153 WHIP tied his career-best, set in his rookie year with the Rays in 2011.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21