ATLANTA -- Jeremy Hellickson's first and possibly only season with the Phillies had to be considered a success.
Philadelphia traded a Minor League pitcher to Arizona for him in November, hoping he could stabilize an inexperienced rotation. Hellickson fulfilled the Phillies' wishes, finishing his season on Thursday night in Philadelphia's 5-2 loss to the Braves at Turner Field with a 12-10 record and a 3.71 ERA. He made a career-high 32 starts and matched a career high with 189 innings.
So while it is unfortunate that his season ended in the fourth inning because of a sprained right knee -- it does not seem serious -- he has set himself up nicely for free agency.
"I would love to be back next year," Hellickson said, when asked if this was his final start with the Phillies.
But returning to Philadelphia seems like a long shot. The Phillies plan to make him a qualifying offer after the season, though they expect him to reject it and sign with another team. Comparable starters like Mike Leake (five years, $80 million) and Ian Kennedy (five years, $70 million) signed lucrative contracts this past offseason.
It seems Hellickson could do much better than a one-year deal worth about $17 million, which is what he would receive if he surprised the Phillies and accepted the qualifying offer.
If Hellickson signs elsewhere, the Phillies would receive a compensatory pick, somewhere around the 35th overall selection in the 2017 Draft.
"I mean, I definitely could see it," Hellickson said about accepting the qualifying offer.
But a multi-year contract would be much sweeter, no?
"Yeah, I would love that actually a little bit more," Hellickson said.
Hellickson sprained his knee when he got a cleat stuck in the dirt near first base in the third inning. It bothered him a bit on the mound, so he did not want to risk further injury. It was one of the few smudges on his season.
"Try to throw 200 innings -- I fell just short of that -- and stay healthy," Hellickson said. "So as far as those two goals go, it was good. [The knee] isn't anything that's going to linger."
Hellickson said he truly enjoyed his time with the Phillies, but the timing might not be right to continue the relationship. The Phillies might not be ready to sign a veteran pitcher to a multi-year contract at this stage of their rebuilding process. They instead might want to replicate what they did this past offseason. In other words, they might want to find the next Hellickson.
Whatever happens, Hellickson thinks the organization is headed in the right direction.
"You saw glimpses this year," the 29-year-old said. "We didn't finish like we wanted, but there's a lot of talent here. I definitely think we're moving in the right direction. I definitely think next year could be the year we make the playoffs."
Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.