Trade Deadline: Who Needs Cole Hamels?
By Matt Veasey
Who needs Cole Hamels? An easier question to answer might be, who doesn’t need Cole Hamels? The answer to that question does not include the Philadelphia Phillies. The fact is, every team in baseball needs someone of his caliber as a key member of their pitching rotation.
Let’s start this next in my series of looks at Phils’ players who are on the trading blocks as next Friday’s 2015 MLB non-waiver trade deadline approaches with a description of what Hamels brings to any team, including the current and future Phillies.
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Hamels is a 31-year old, left-handed veteran pitching in his 10th big league season, all with the Phillies. The organization selected him with the 17th overall pick in the first round of the 2002 MLB Amateur Draft out of Rancho Bernardino High School in California.
A San Diego native, he spent the next 3 1/2 seasons growing from a scrawny teenager into a premium starting pitching prospect, making his Phillies MLB debut on May 12th, 2006 with 5 shutout, 1-hit innings vs Cincinnati. The Phils blew a 2-0 lead, so he didn’t gain the win that day. That first Win would wait until June 6th in Arizona, and there have been 112 more since.
The fact is, there should probably be a couple dozen more in the ‘W’ column of his Win-Loss record, but the Phillies have been notoriously low scorers in his starting outings over the course of his career. He has a 113-90 career mark to this point, with a 3.31 ERA and 1.149 WHIP. Hamels has pitched 1,921 innings during which he has yielded 1,717 hits and struck out 1,831 opposing batters.
He is a 3x National League All-Star, and four times has finished among the Top 8 in the NL Cy Young Award voting. Hamels has also come up big in the postseason, winning both the NLCS and World Series MVP Awards during the Phillies run to the 2008 title. He is 7-4 over 13 total postseason starts with a 3.09 ERA in his postseason career.
Hamels is an ace, and is being paid like one. His contract calls for him to earn $23.5 million guaranteed over each of the next 3 seasons, and carries a $20 million team option and $24 million vesting option for the 2019 season as well.
He won’t come cheap to any team wanting to acquire him, either by salary, or by the cost of prospects to get a trade done. However, the Phillies are on record as stating that money and contracts won’t be a hurdle, if they get the right package in return. In other words, the club will pick up some or all of Hamels contract, if the prospects coming back are considered strong enough.
May as well start with this one, as the rumors were flowing fast and furious last night on social media. The Phillies and Cubs have apparently been involved in intense negotiations for Hamels, centering around middle infielders Starlin Castro and Javier Baez. Hamels would bolster a Cubbies rotation that already includes Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, a solid left-right combo. Hamels would deepen/lengthen that quality, making them a tough playoff series matchup. He would also help now, as the team is battling to even get in, holding a half game lead over the Giants for the 2nd Wildcard. The Castro-Baez price seems a little light, but it’s a reasonable start. If Chicago tosses in 1-2 of the top arms from its deep system, this may get done, and quickly.
The perennial Hamels favorites going all the way back to this past winter, the Bosox are rumored to still be intensely interested in obtaining Hamels. Though Boston appears dead in the water for a 2015 postseason berth, they desperately need quality starting pitching. The Red Sox believe they can contend in 2016 if they find 1-2 top starters, and they may be right. Hamels would be a perfect fit, and Boston has the prospects to get a deal done. Problem? Boston has ALWAYS had the prospects to get this deal done, and simply has been unwilling to meet the Phillies price, which remains justifiably high. Give up the kids, get yourself an ace arm.
Another team that has publicly been linked in recent days and weeks as interested in Hamels for a 2016 rebound, the Rangers also have the prospects and young players to get a deal done. The lefty has put the Rangers on his list of teams to whom he would approve a trade in previous years. With Texas gearing up, as Boston, for a strong 2016 run, the pairing of Hamels with a returning Yu Darvish could help a quick turnaround. Oh, and Texas is just 5.5 out of the 2nd AL Wildcard now. Unlike Boston, buried 9.5 back and having to climb over a dozen teams, that might be doable with Hamels pitching every 5th day.
Why would any team with the dynamic duo of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke already on top of their rotation want a Cole Hamels? Seems like overkill, no? That is just the point. Remember the 2011 Phillies, and the Four Aces rotation? Helped the team win a franchise-record 102 games. The Dodgers are currently on top of the NL West race, but only by 2 games in the loss column over their arch-rival Giants. If they slip, or if an injury to either of the top two, they would be in trouble. Also, there are rumors that Greinke is gone after the season. Hamels, under contract control for another 4 years, would ease that loss. The Dodgers certainly have plenty of money. They also have prospects. This is why speculation continues to fly that LA blue could be a match for a Hamels deal.
Same city as above, a deal to the Halos puts Hamels back in his native SoCal. That’s why both LA franchise’ have continually been on a Hamels “will go to” trade list. Problem with the Angels could be that they simply don’t have a good enough prospect package to send back to the Phillies. One piece that would have to be included would be lefty pitcher Sean Newcomb. There might be enough pieces here to get it done, added to him. But there has not been even a small hint that they are getting involved. The Phillies have surprised with such “quiet” deals before, so it cannot be ruled out.
The reasons for the Padres to remain on this list are the most obvious ones that will always be present with them, unless or until Hamels is dealt elsewhere: it’s SoCal, and it’s even more specifically his hometown. Hamels would love to go home and pitch here. It’s not only home, a great place to live and raise a family, but it’s also a pitcher’s heaven. Back in the winter, as the Padres built what they hoped would be an immediate contender with a series of key trades, they are rumored to have made a serious offer or two on the hometown kid at that time. Would they jump back in, at 8 games out in the NL Wildcard race? Maybe to lead their staff forward.
Again, any contender could use Hamels. His wife is from the Midwest, and so places like Saint Louis and Kansas City would seem to make good possible destinations as well. Any contending team that needs starting pitching, such as the Yankees, who likely don’t have the right prospects to get it done, and even clubs who feel they can contend next season with the right ace at the top of their rotation, should be at least looking into what it would take to acquire Hamels from the Phillies.
I have put the odds at no better than 50-50 that some team actually steps up, and is willing to pay the price to land the lefty before the trade deadline. There is every possibility that the Phillies, not bowled over by any offer, could decide to keep him, not only into the winter, but as their own lead rotation piece over the next 3-4 years as they rebuild towards contention of their own. We’ll know on this year’s deadline soon. If he’s still here, we’ll get a good indication of what the future holds once Andy MacPhail takes over in October.