With the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline looming in Major League Baseball, and the Phillies apparently unable to pawn off any of their over-priced, over-aged, or injury-plagued players to contending teams, the possibility that GM Ruben Amaro Jr will try to cash in his biggest chip for premium prospect talent with which to rebuild is growing by the hour.
Tonight up at Citi Field in New York, Cole Hamels will take the mound for the Fightins against the New York Mets. There is growing speculation that this could be his final start in a Philadelphia Phillies uniform. The vultures are circling, reportedly in the form of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Saint Louis Cardinals, and Boston Red Sox among others.
In recent days, numerous TV talking heads, national columnists, and pop-up websites across baseball have been exploding with Hamels speculation and rumors. Frankly, that’s all that any specific would be, wild speculation. However, at least one rival GM has made the statement that Hamels is indeed being floated by the Phils, and that the team is asking an exorbitant price in return for the former World Series and NLCS MVP. This is as it should be for one of the game’s best starting pitchers, still in his prime years.
The sources spit out the usual Hamels facts and statistics, and match him up mostly with easily identifiable contenders and/or cash cows. But the fact remains that, from the Phillies side, Cole Hamels is simply not going to be dealt at all unless the return is a package of at least 3 highly rated prospects with which to accelerate the overall rebuilding plan.
So what would it take, and who can meet the price? Let’s look at the package such a deal would take from each of four top possible Hamels trade destinations:
BOSTON RED SOX: Any deal with Boston would have to start with Mookie Betts, the 21-year old who is the club’s top prospect. He would likely be groomed as the eventual Chase Utley successor at 2nd base for the Phils. The deal would have to include at least one other premium bat, and one premium arm. The bat would preferably be switch-hitting 22-year old catcher Blake Swihart. But 17-year old 3rd baseman Rafael Devers or 19-year old outfielder Manuel Margot might do as a 2nd hitting prospect. The pitcher would need to be either 24-year old righty Allen Webster or 22-year old lefty Henry Owens. Boston appears to have the best package, if they do want to get this done.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS: Sending Hamels back to southern California might be an ideal match, and the Dodgers have three prospects that could get this deal done, if they want to put Hamels with Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. The three are 20-year old shortstop/3d baseman Corey Seager, 22-year old outfielder Joc Pederson, and 17-year old lefty pitcher Julio Urias. If I’m the Phillies, I don’t budge off any of these three. If LA goes for it, it could be the ultimate win-win for both teams. The Dodgers would be 2nd on my ranking of potential deal possibilities.
SAINT LOUIS CARDINALS: The Phillies aren’t going to be getting an Oscar Taveras. But the Cards would need to lead with 23-year old outfielder Stephen Piscotty, their #2 prospect. Then the Phils would need to get a pair of arms from St. Louis from among lefties Rob Kaminsky and Marco Gonzalez, and right-hander Alexander Reyes. This is not as strong as the Boston group. If I’m the Phils, I try to make it the two 19-year olds in Kaminsky and Reyes, and then get Saint Louis to part with another outfielder as well, either Randall Grichuk or James Ramsey.
NEW YORK YANKEES: Any time that you are talking about big deals involving high-salaried players, you have to consider the Yankees as players in the negotiations. Add in the facts that in this particular year the Yanks are on the fringe of contending for both their A.L. East division race and the Wildcard races, that it is Derek Jeter’s swan song and they absolutely would love to send him off with a postseason shot, and their pitching has been struck by the loss to injury of ace C.C. Sabathia. Problem? The Yankees do not have the quality of prospects it would take. Catcher Gary Sanchez and pitchers Luis Severino and Ian Clarkin would have to be in the package, but it would take more. 3rd baseman Eric Jagielo or outfielder Aaron Judge would need to be in the package. Four of those guys just to consider, and the Phils would need to be convinced that they couldn’t do any of the other deals.
It is still a longshot, as far as I am concerned, that the Phillies will trade Hamels at this time. If they are absolutely blown away by one of the above packages, especially the Dodgers or Red Sox packages, then it would be irresponsible of Amaro to not swallow hard and do it. But anything less and they should keep him. A Hamels trade could always come in the off-season, next season, or somewhere else down the line. As long as he stays healthy, he will retain his value.