Max Scherzer Helps the Cole Hamels Trade Market


Yesterday morning, the Washington Nationals signed free agent pitcher Max Scherzer to a 7 year, $210 million contract, the largest in baseball history for a right handed pitcher. While you can delve into the contract specifics on your own, the fact is that Scherzer now gives a very good Washington rotation the chance to rank among the all-time greats.

With so few holes in the rotation and lineup, the Nats would seem to be the odds-on favorite to represent the National League in the 2015 World Series. However, there is a prevailing thought that with the Nationals signing Scherzer, someone has to be traded from the current rotation in order to both replenish the farm system and free up some extra nickels in order to keep under the salary budget bottom line. 

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My question is: why? The Nationals have consistently said that they have money to spend when necessary. Since this deal is tremendously backloaded, it still makes their payroll palatable for the foreseeable future, therefore rendering that argument illogical. The other argument, that trading a pitcher would replenish the farm system, does have some merit.

The Nationals’ farm system isn’t hugely deep, but there are some stud prospects at the top. The top two candidates to be traded are presumably Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister, mostly because they are free agents at the end of the season. These two arms should command the types of prospects that could help push the Nationals’ system into the top tier in the eyes of prospect hounds.

With the rumors possibly getting started, this is where the market for Cole Hamels begins to be affected.

As of now, Hamels is clearly the best pitcher that has been publicly made available to be had via trade. Others, such as Zimmermann or Fister, may have been discussed in private, but only Ruben Amaro, Jr. has already said a pitcher of Hamels’ caliber could be moved for the right package.

Should GM Mike Rizzo put either of his two pitchers on the market (or, gasp, Stephen Strasburg), it would flood an otherwise barren traded market with two or three other top notch arms. While Hamels could arguably be the best of the bunch, he would require the highest return package, because of the length of control the acquiring team would have. Strasburg might rival that package, but even he has two less seasons of control than Hamels. 

How does all of this affect Hamels? There are two probable ways.

1) The Scherzer Effect

Washington wasn’t the odds-on favorite for Scherzer, making his signing a little surprising. In fact, most experts didn’t even think they would need a pitcher at all. Since they weren’t in the market for pitching anyway, they were never considered a suitor to trade for Hamels.

With his signing, the teams that were in on Scherzer now need to move on to a new target. They could go into free agency and spend on James Shields, but he is clearly a step below Scherzer. The difference between Hamels and Scherzer isn’t nearly as great.

While trading for Hamels would cost both money and prospects, the talent level being acquired is worth 2-3 wins more than Shields. In this age of the second wild card, this could be the difference between playing in October or setting tee times in South Carolina.

Scherzer signing with a team that did not have a clear pitching need only accentuates the price any club that had targeted him would need to pay in order to add a starting pitcher of his caliber, thus bringing them into the Hamels sweepstakes.

2) Amaro can wait for more desperate teams

If either Zimmermann or Fister or both enter the trade market, Hamels does not need to be moved this winter. In such a scenario, once one of the Nationals’ pitchers is traded, Hamels would again be the only true ace-caliber starter on the market.

The smartest thing for the organization to do would be wait until the approach of the July trade deadline, when more teams will know where they stand, in order to maximize the return.

Right now, only 4 teams are widely known to have discussed Hamels – the Rangers, Padres, Cardinals and Red Sox. Waiting until July would give Amaro 3 or 4 more teams with which to negotiate. This should only help make the return on Hamels that much better, putting the Phillies in the best position to make and maximize a trade.

The Nationals’ signing of Max Scherzer will make them tough to beat, both now and in 2016, ’17, and maybe ’18. However, it may ultimately prove a very good thing for the Phillies as well. By making Hamels available, or pulling him back until July, their chances of landing the package of players and prospects that will make them a powerhouse again have only gone up.