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Jeremy Hellickson happy he's still with the Phils - for now

DUNEDIN, Fla. - It was a few days before last July's trade deadline, a most uncertain time for Jeremy Hellickson, when the Phillies righthander flagged a clubhouse attendant. Hellickson wanted to buy a few No. 58 jerseys in red pinstripes from the store at Citizens Bank Park. He guessed that his time in Philadelphia was nearing its end.

DUNEDIN, Fla. - It was a few days before last July's trade deadline, a most uncertain time for Jeremy Hellickson, when the Phillies righthander flagged a clubhouse attendant. Hellickson wanted to buy a few No. 58 jerseys in red pinstripes from the store at Citizens Bank Park. He guessed that his time in Philadelphia was nearing its end.

But the Phillies did not trade him. He departed the clubhouse last October thinking there was a "more than slim" chance he would return in 2017. Then, in the initial days after the Phillies made him a $17.2 million qualifying offer, Hellickson thought there was a "slim-to-none chance" he would accept it.

"It came down to the last day," Hellickson said.

So here he is, still a Phillies starter, and the likeliest pick to start the season's first game again. That is just fine for Hellickson, a mild-mannered Iowan who wished for stability in the form of a multiyear deal but instead doubled his career earnings in the short term.

He faces another summer of trade rumors, rumors that should result in something - anything - because the new collective bargaining agreement prevents the Phillies from receiving compensation for Hellickson unless he is dealt.

Is he ready for the constant chatter?

"No," Hellickson said, laughing.

He knows it is coming.

"But I'm not focused on that right now," Hellickson said. "Hopefully it doesn't even come down to it. I think we have a really good team here. Hopefully we're the ones trading for guys at the deadline."

Maybe. But probably not. Hellickson, by accepting the qualifying offer, landed the highest annual average value for any free-agent pitcher. Rich Hill (three years, $48 million), Ivan Nova (three years, $26 million), and Edinson Volquez (two years, $22 million) all signed for a larger total guarantee.

Hellickson had a week last November to render his decision, and he was said to be leaning toward free agency. His agent, Scott Boras, hinted at a robust market for Hellickson in a weak winter class. But conflicting signs about how teams valued him, especially with a draft pick attached to his services, pushed Hellickson to return.

It was somewhat of a surprise that the Phillies and Hellickson even reached that point. The Phillies floated Hellickson all last July. But, despite decent numbers, he was no contending team's top target.

The Phillies and Marlins had agreed to a trade, first reported by Fox Sports and confirmed by a baseball source, that would have sent Hellickson to Miami for first-base prospect Josh Naylor. But that deal was contingent on the Marlins' nixing a prior trade with San Diego that included damaged goods in Colin Rea. Instead, the Marlins and Padres reworked their original trade.

Those complications so close to the trade deadline limited the Phillies' ability to move Hellickson. But, in reality, the Marlins were their best option. The interest from others was not strong, nor were the potential offers.

So be it, Hellickson said. Hellickson last season tied a career high in innings (189) and established a new career mark in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.42).

He will make a one-year wager on himself.

"That's kind of how I'm looking at it," Hellickson said. "It was easy to do that just with the way I felt last year. I feel like I'm 100 percent again. I think I can definitely repeat or exceed what I did last year."

Hellickson threw two uninspired innings Sunday in his Grapefruit League debut, which came in an unsightly 10-3 Phillies win over Toronto. Pitching coach Bob McClure trudged to the mound just six batters into Hellickson's spring. The veteran worked on his cutter. He was not pleased with it. It's February. There is time.

While Hellickson debated the $17.2 million offer last November, the Phillies acquired outfielder Howie Kendrick and reliever Pat Neshek. Hellickson eschewed a chance at long-term security. The alternative isn't that bad.

"I saw all the guys who were coming over and all the moves we made," Hellickson said. "It made my decision that much easier."

mgelb@philly.com

@mattgelb

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