All Aaron Nola had to do, for the 2023 Philadelphia Phillies to overcome a bout of road slippage and reclaim their NL crown, was to silence the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citizens Bank Park.
It was clear almost from first pitch that his tired right arm would not allow his determined brain to accomplish that goal. Nearly perfect in Game 2's 10-0 drubbing of the Snakes, Nola faltered in the second inning of his second chance, battling poor location and dipping velocity. Diminished speed was nothing new for the hurler, though. He was already operating about 1.0 MPH slower on his fastball in 2023, ranking in the 12th percentile with a 91.7 MPH average early in the season before reaching a 92.4 plateau (24th percentile) by end of year.
That difficult Game 6 will send a clearly emotional Nola into free agency at a pivot point. He has the postseason resumé, but his heater doesn't dazzle, robbing his top-notch breaker of some of its potency. Now 30, there's a good chance we've already seen the best of Nola, following a 4.46 ERA in 2023.
Regardless of just how effective Nola is moving forward, it seems clear he'll continue to soak up innings in throwback fashion. He might not be a No. 2, but he's too much of a horse to be a No. 4. If the Dodgers were to make overtures (and find a landing spot under $100 million), he could play Lance Lynn's Playoff No. 3 role far better than Lynn himself.
Will Nola's slowed momentum send him in the Dodgers' direction? Unfortunately, it might've just set up even more perfectly for Dave Dombrowski, who made it quite clear in his postmortem Phillies press conference that he would like to re-sign the right-hander.
Dodgers Free Agent Target: Aaron Nola
If the Phillies love the pitcher, and if the pitcher's most recent body of work diminished his value on the open market, then it's highly unlikely a team like the Dodgers will be able to offer more than the stability he'd get by returning home.
Without someone else blowing the Phillies' hometown discount out of the water, he'll probably stay home for ~four more seasons. And after Nola's 2023 campaign, Dombrowski probably will not be blown away by anyone, including Andrew Friedman. A reduction in his value seems likely to favor his former team instead of create a free agent coup.