Jeremy Hellickson's decision to accept a $17.2 million qualifying offer wasn't unprecedented, and neither was the Phillies' decision to offer it to him. So while a $17.2 million salary for a bottom-of-the-rotation starter might seem a bit steep, it won't affect the Phillies any more than most costs of doing business.
If anything, their decision to offer him the qualifying offer should hearten fans who are getting impatient with the pace of the rebuild. While it would be foolish for the club to add any long-term commitments to its books, the Phillies' willingness to risk overpaying for Hellickson is as good a sign as any that they will be hovering around the free-agent market with an open invitation to players who are either looking for a one-year prove-it deal or who are willing to take such a deal and hope that the multi-year offers improve next season.
The Hellickson situation profiles similarly to the one that featured Brett Anderson and the Dodgers last season. While Anderson was coming off a solid season as a 27-year-old (180 1/3 innings, 3.69 ERA, 100 ERA+), his representatives clearly got the indication in informal talks that teams weren't willing to part with the draft pick that signing him would have required, so the lefty starter accepted the qualifying offer.
It turned out to be a good move from the player's perspective: Anderson made just four appearances for the Dodgers as the injury problems he'd battled throughout his career returned. Since MLB introduced the qualifying offer system in the latest CBA (currently being renegotiated), only three other players besides Hellickson and Anderson have accepted the one-year deal it entails. Neil Walker did it this offseason, and Matt Wieters and Colby Rasmus did it last offseason. Neither Wieters nor Rasmus did much to increase his value on this year's market.
Hellickson might be coming off the strongest season of any of them, with a 3.71 ERA, 111 ERA+, and solid strikeout and walk numbers in 189 innings (which tied a career high). There is still some hope that the Phillies will be able to trade Hellickson by eating some of his salary, though he can't be dealt before June 15 without his content, and his market clearly wasn't what the Phillies hoped it would be this past June.
Simply put, this wasn't as much of a gamble as it might appear at first on either side. Last year's free-agent market included Mike Pelfrey signing for two years and $16 million. It cost $6 million just to take a chance on a 36-year-old reclamation project (Rich Hill worked out better for the Athletics than Colby Lewis did for the Rangers). Bartolo Colon, who had a comparable season to Hellickson's, just signed for $12.5 million with the Braves. And he's 43 years old.
No doubt, the Phillies would have rather had the draft pick that would have come with Hellickson turning down the offer (provided he ended up signing with a new team, of course). But anybody who was hoping that the Phillies improve on last year was going to need them to have some way to replace Hellickson's spot in the rotation. Hey, it ain't your money.