WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - After spending the last month watching their in-house candidates pitch in person and prominent free agents agree to deals elsewhere, the Nationals appear to have found a surprise new choice to be their No. 5 starter.
The club has agreed to terms on a minor league contract with Jeremy Hellickson, according to a source familiar with the deal, making the 30-year-old right-hander the sudden odds-on favorite to fill the final spot in the Nationals rotation.
Hellickson’s deal does not guarantee him a spot on the major league roster, and given the late date of his signing he may not even be ready to open the season. But the journeyman likely would not have agreed to join the Nats without at least some assurances he’ll be part of the big league rotation as soon as he gets himself into regular season shape.
ESPN.com was first to report Hellickson was close to a deal.
The Nationals have faced questions about the identity of their No. 5 starter since the beginning of the offseason, and those questions only grew as spring training arrived and prominent free agents Jake Arrieta and Lance Lynn remained available. Despite some interest, though, the Nats passed on the final asking prices for both right-handers - Arrieta signed a three-year, $75 million deal with the Phillies and Lynn signed a one-year, $12 million deal with the Twins - and were not as keen on the still-unsigned Alex Cobb.
General manager Mike Rizzo was left to consider in-house options A.J. Cole, Erick Fedde, Edwin Jackson and Tommy Milone, or look somewhere else for a better alternative. Whether Hellickson proves to be a better option remains to be seen.
On the heels of a strong 2016 season with the Phillies in which he went 12-10 with a 3.71 ERA in 32 starts, Hellickson struggled throughout the 2017 campaign. He was 6-5 with a 4.73 ERA in 20 starts for Philadelphia, then went 2-6 with a 6.97 ERA in 10 starts after getting traded to the Orioles in late July.
Over the course of an eight-year career that began with the Rays while new Nationals manager Davey Martinez was bench coach, Hellickson is 69-69 with a 4.12 ERA and 1.252 WHIP.
A Scott Boras client, Hellickson joins Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez as rotation members represented by the super-agent. Tanner Roark, who is represented by Max Colleran, becomes the lone outsider among Nationals starters.