Disclaimer: I wrote about 3,000 words, hit the wrong key stroke, and apparently autosave didn’t work, so it was all erased. I am going to try and type it again, but I can promise you it won’t be as detailed as what I’d written before.
Okay, so Jim Salisbury identified 4 teams that were in the running for Cole Hamels: The Padres, Red Sox, Rangers and Cardinals. I wanted to take a look at each of the 4 to see what the Phillies could expect to receive in return. I also wanted to make a few comments on the actual concept of trading Cole Hamels. I’ll do all of that below the fold.
I have 5 key points to make before looking at each of the 4 teams that Steaks mentioned are showing the most interest in Hamels.
1. The chestnut being thrown around recently is that Cole’s contract is a bit of a problem. This is ridiculous. If you compare him to the pitchers who make a similar amount of money, he’s arguably the best of the bunch behind only Kershaw. The others on the list include Verlander, King Felix, Tanaka, Sabathia, Greinke, Lester, and Cliff Lee. James Shields and Scherzer will join the list soon, David Price and Jordan Zimmermann soon after. Assuming that a team who does not have to pick up his option as part of the NTC compensation acquires him, they are on the hook for 4/90 and then a 6m buyout if they choose, which means a 4/96 ($24m AAV) over the next 4 years. For one of the best pitchers in baseball, who has been durable and has extensive postseason experience, this is right in line with what you’d expect. And because most teams are unwilling to go beyond 4-5 years when giving deals to pitchers, he holds an advantage over guys like Lester and Verlander who are already signed, and over the guys who are going to get 6-7 year deals like Scherzer, Shields, Price and Zimmermann. Don’t let people tell you his contract is anything other than fair.
2. Along the same lines, some are saying the Phillies might have to pick up part of the money to get a deal done. This should ONLY be done if it significantly improves the package of players coming back to the Phillies. The Phillies one advantage right now is their spending power, which I highlighted a few weeks ago. Their opening day payroll is likely to be under $150m, and the luxury tax threshold is $189m this year. If paying $15-20m over the next 2-3 years brings you back another elite prospect or young player, then do it. We won’t be near the luxury tax threshold anyway, and with the new TV money coming in, we can afford it. But this should absolutely NOT be a deal done to “move his salary”…I’ll rage if I read that as one of the motivations for eventually trading him.
3. Hamels is by far our best trading chip, and he’s the key to our “rebuilding” efforts. We screwed the pooch on the first Cliff Lee deal, we badly botched the Hunter Pence deal. We can’t afford to give Hamels away for 20 cents on the dollar. The return on any Hamels deal has to include at least one very high probability guy who figures to be at least an average major league regular. We didn’t get that in either of the deals mentioned above.
4. The Phillies should not feel pressured to trade Hamels right now. Because he isn’t a “rental” it isn’t like his value is going to decrease by July. If anything, his value goes up, because the money the other team is on the hook for goes down. Sure, he could get hurt (knock on wood), but that goes for any pitcher or player. By waiting, teams that might not have a need now could get involved if their ace suddenly gets injured. Also, by waiting, the Phillies can continue to gather intel on the guys they are interested in. More information is good. They appeared to rush in their efforts to trade Cliff Lee a few years ago, and it came back to burn them. They shouldn’t rush this time. And lets face it, he will be one of the few reasons to actually watch Phillies baseball this season.
5. Some of the national media writers/trolls have said the Phillies are being “unrealistic” in their demands for Hamels. Good. They shouldn’t bend over for anyone and move him just to move him. You never start a negotiation with the lowest offer you’d accept, you aim for the stars and then settle on something a bit lower. Surely the 29 other GMs also understand this concept. Don’t listen to writers who dislike Amaro and expect him to “do the right thing” and dump Hamels to a team they like more than the Phillies.
So, the teams that Steaks mentioned, lets go over them.
Padres: The Padres have a GM who is willing to deal, which is always a good starting point. The Pads have traded away most of their farm system this winter, but they have managed to hold on to their 3 best prospects:
- Austin Hedges, C (age 22) – Hedges is an elite defender but his bat is lagging way behind. He played in a tough park in 2014, but scouts seem to question whether he can even be an average offensive catcher. His absolute best case scenario is Yadi Molina, but he’s a long way away from that.
- Hunter Renfroe, OF (age 22) – Renfroe is probably the safest prospect they have. He isn’t flashy, doesn’t have one elite tool, but should be at least a league average RF for the next 5 years. He’s probably a 20 HR guy with average on base skills at his peak, maybe a bit better.
- Matt Wisler, RHP (age 22) – Cruised through the low minors, hit the wall at AAA this year. Most scouts still think he’s a solid #3, maybe a bit more. High probability guy, close to the majors.
Beyond this list, they have a few interesting guys like Rymer Lirano, Cory Spangenberg, and Jose Rondon. If the Phillies are dealing Cole to his hometown team, they need to get 2 of the 3 above, and then preferably one of the other 3 I mentioned and one more low level guy. Hedges, Renfroe and Wisler are all solid, but I’d bet against any of them turning into perennial all stars, and you really should be getting at least one guy who is a decent bet to turn into a star when you are trading an elite major leaguer.
Rangers: I’m not sure if the Rangers are buyers or not, Salisbury mentioned they were quietly working in the background, and they are in a very tough division. The Angels and A’s content every year, the Mariners are finally improving, and it appears the Astros are done tanking, so they’ll improve too. The Rangers have a lot of young talent on the big league roster, and also a good farm system
- Joey Gallo, 3B (age 21) – I think its unlikely the Rangers would trade him, so I won’t get too hung up on him, but he’s got 40 home run potential, and also the potential to strike out 225 times in a season. His upside is one of the best offensive players in baseball, his downside is Adam Dunn. Huge range of outcomes, and because he could turn into a .270 hitter with 40+ home runs a season, I doubt the Rangers move him.
- Alex Gonzalez, RHP (age 23) – First round pick in 2013, cruised through AA this year, just turned 23. Looks like a legit mid rotation guy with a chance to be a #2. Very good fastball/sinker, good slider, potential for a plus changeup, and close to the majors. A very good prospect.
- Jorge Alfaro, C (age 21) – Potential all-star catcher. Has borderline elite raw power and one of the best arms in the minors. Still rough around the edges, but has progressed as expected. A few years away from the majors, but has the chance to be an all star in his prime.
- Jake Thompson, RHP (age 20) – Turns 21 in a few weeks, power arm, great fastball and slider, but might end up in the pen.
- Nomar Mazara, OF (age 19) – When you make it to AA as a 19 year old and you more than hold your own (.306/.381/.518 in 85 AB) then you are a special prospect. He’s a prototypical RF, big power potential, good arm, and really broke out in 2014.
In addition to these key guys, they also have Jurickson Profar, Rougned Odor, and Martin Perez in the majors, and then guys who could be interesting like Michael Choice. The Phillies might have to kick in money to make a deal work, but if they could land 2 of Gonzalez, Alfaro and Mazara, they should absolutely be willing to do that. The Rangers are my preferred trading partner in a Hamels deal.
Red Sox – As I am entrenched here in Red Sox country, I really hope he doesn’t end up here, because then I’d have to hate him.
- Blake Swihart, C (age 22) – He’s the big name that has been mentioned, and for good reason, as he looks like a potential all-star catcher.
- Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP (age 21) – Stolen from the Orioles for Andrew Miller, he’s a quality starting pitching prospect with a plus fastball and the potential for a plus slider and changeup as well. Success in AA, close to big league ready.
- Henry Owens, LHP (age 22) – A tall, lanky SoCal kid with a plus changeup…sounds familiar. The comparisons with Hamels end there, but he does have the potential for 3 plus pitches and he’s already close to big league ready.
- Manuel Margot, OF (age 20) and Rafael Devers, 3B (age 18) – Two high profile international signings with big upside, but a long way to go.
Beyond this list, the Red Sox also have young guys who’ve already spent time in the bigs in Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr and Christian Vazquez. It seems they are unlikely to trade Betts in any deal, which is understandable. They also seem like they won’t trade Swihart, but that might be posturing. Vazquez, also a catcher, has plenty of upside and profile as well, and if you can land Owens and one of Margot/Devers as well, that’s 3 nice pieces. I’d also ask for a lesser guy like Matt Barnes too. The Red Sox are media darlings, so I’m going to assume a lot of the “unreasonable” talk has come from the Red Sox asking guys like Buster Olney and Jon Heyman to do their dirty work for them to get the price to come down. The Phillies shouldn’t bend over for the Red Sox or anyone else. The Phillies would likely be better off demanding Swihart be the cornerstone of the deal and taking less quantity if they do a deal with the Red Sox. Of course, if they think Xander can’t stick at SS and they would move him, now that they signed Sandoval, I’d certainly build a deal around him.
Cardinals – I hate the Cardinals, and speaking objectively, their farm system is pretty lousy. They have Marco Gonzalez, a solid LHP, and then a lot of question marks. Stephen Piscotty is similar to Hunter Renfroe in that he doesn’t have an elite tool, and after that you’ve got lots of question marks and guys that would fill out the back end of a trade. I don’t think Gonzalez is a deal headliner. They do have young talent on the big league team in Carlos Martinez, but I am not sure if he sticks as a starter long term, and the Phillies would have to be sure he was before making that deal. Plus, the latest rumor says the Cards aren’t really that interested. Good, I don’t want him to go there anyway.
Given my writeups above, its probably clear that I think the Rangers are the best fit, given their minor league talent. One of the Rangers beat writers said that money could be a stumbling block, but if we can land a few of their elite guys, we should be able to make that problem go away. The Padres pieces are interesting, but we’d have to really get all 3 of their big guns to make me feel comfortable about that.
If I had to guess right now, I think Hamels will be with the Phillies on opening day. And really, that isn’t the end of the world.