Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Phillies, Red Sox, Hamels

Cole Hamels traded by the Phillies to the Boston Red Sox for a package of young players and prospects.

It's a story that has been percolating for at least weeks, ever since Phillies acting President Pat Gillick publicly stated that the club likely would not win in 2015 or 2016.

Gillick has also publicly stated that everything is on the table. No player is untouchable. The Phils will explore every avenue in order to turn over the remainder of the holdovers from the recent era of excellence in hopes to move towards a bright future.

The Red Sox story has gained traction because it is true. Boston frankly is in desperate need of a starting pitcher of Hamels caliber. They have the pieces that it would take to get such a deal done. But getting the Phils and Bosox together
on an exact trade is proving to be a difficult matter.

I believe that it should be difficult. When making such a deal, from both sides, the cost to your club weighed against the potential benefits can be difficult to gauge. In the end, if such a deal does get completed, it will take a measure of courage on the parts of both organizations.

It's my hope here to shed a little more light on what is happening, and come at things from both a Phillies and Red Sox perspective. No one can tell you whether a deal will get done or not. No one can tell you what Boston is willing to move. No one can tell you what the Phillies are asking. With that, an examination:

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What the Phillies are, have, and should be asking:

Here is what we are talking about, from a Phils perspective. They are a clearly rebuilding organization, top to bottom. In an off-season of publicly pronounced change, nearly every other interesting piece they have to offer comes with age, injury, and/or financial concerns. Hamels is the exception.

He will turn 31 years old next month, so is not old. He has thrown over 180 innings in 8 straight seasons, over 200 in 5 straight, and has made at least 31 starts in 7 straight, so he is healthy and reliable. He has struck out over 190 batters in 6 of the last 7 seasons, so he is dominant.

He is signed for the next 4 seasons, with a club option on a 5th season. That contract pays him $22.5 million each season. That is a lot, but not for what Hamels is: a true, proven, experienced, healthy, left-handed ace who has been a big winner in a big market. It is cost certainty for a wealthy team in an $8.5 billion industry.

Considering all of the above, the Phillies rightfully should be asking a great deal for his services. The teams needs are plenty, and he offers the only realistic chance to fill at least 2-3 of those needs with talented young players and prospects.

What the Red Sox are, have, and should reasonably expect to pay:

This is the Boston Red Sox we are talking about. Much like the Phils, they have one of the most passionate, involved fan bases in the game. Losing is not an option in Beantown. In 2014, a year after winning their 3rd World Series title in a decade, the Bosox came in last place in the American League East. It is actually their 2nd last place finish in the last 3 seasons.

Mookie Betts is a player that has to be on Phillies list

Boston also has one of the deepest, most talented pools of young players and prospects in the game today. Earlier this year, Baseball America ranked them 2nd, and Baseball Prospectus ranked them 4th in all of baseball in terms of organizational prospect talent.

The Red Sox also have other interesting dynamics. They went from last to champions just a year ago, so they know it can be done. But they compete in a very tough division. The Orioles won the division by a dozen games and are not going away. The Blue Jays are talented, and already making moves like signing Russell Martin, geared at winning now. The Yankees will not sit for long, just on the outside fringes of contention.

Boston can again go from last to champs. They have a core that is not getting any younger, but still talented, with 'Big Papi' David Ortiz now 39 years old, Shane Victorino at 34, Mike Napoli at 33, Dustin Pedroia at 31. They need at least one Hamels-caliber arm, and probably two, in order to get back to contending right away. Clay Buchholz at 30 years old is their ace for now. Otherwise, they are counting on a number of young starting rotation options for 2015.

The Red Sox should expect to pay the price of 3 high-value prospects in order to obtain the total package as a player that Cole Hamels offers. Or at least 1 mega-prospect and a pair of strong ones as icing-on-the-cake.

Specifics of a deal

Let's be specific. I don't know what Ruben Amaro is asking, and neither does anyone else. He has been criticized for asking for too high a price of his aging veterans in recent months. That may be valid, but even if so, it is completely irrelevant here. Hamels is not an aging veteran, he is an ace starting pitcher in his prime. Asking a high price is completely acceptable here.

I would be looking to get an infielder, an outfielder, and a pitcher in return. I would be starting my own conversations with 2nd baseman Mookie Betts, pitcher Henry Owens, and outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. I would be willing to consider Garin Cecchini as an infield substitute for Betts, and Allen Webster or Trey Ball as subs for Owens. But if I did either/both of those, I may also look for a 4th, younger kid such as Rafael Devers or Manuel Margot to be included.

That is a lot, in the world of prospects. But let's keep in mind what we are talking about here. We are talking baseball prospects, the overwhelming majority of which are not likely to pan out into big producers at the MLB level. That is simply a fact. They are pretty names right now, with lots of tools. That is all. Potential. Meanwhile, on the Boston end, Cole Hamels is a proven World Series MVP. And the Sox would still have a bunch of strong prospects remaining.

The Red Sox also still have other options. Specifically, they have one major alternate option: re-sign their own former lefty ace, free agent Jon Lester. The problem is, there are a number of teams actively pursuing Lester. He is free to negotiate with those clubs. A few may appear even more likely to win soon, and may offer more money.

Jon Lester free agency decision a key for Boston

Boston likely makes no move on Hamels at least until after it finds out a final Lester decision. But wouldn't having both lefties in their rotation be exactly what they need? I believe that even if they bring Lester back, the Bosox are treding water from the 2014 bottom dwellers. Adding Hamels makes a legitimate upgrade.

One thing is certain, Ruben Amaro cannot let Hamels go for anything less than full value. You almost never get real value in return for an ace caliber starting pitcher. Look at the records of such deals in history. Look no further than the Phillies own deals involving both Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay just 4-5 years ago. The prospect packages back then all sounded nice. In the end, little to nothing.

There is absolutely no hurry, other than possible risk of a Hamels injury somewhere down the line lessening his value. But he has proven reliable, so that is a slight risk. Waiting into the 2015 season until the trade deadline approaches, or even revisiting this again with teams next off-season after the free agent market settles is a perfectly reasonable strategy.

The bottom line from a Phillies management and fan perspective should be that this is our one near-perfect asset, easily the most valuable that the team controls. Giving it up should be done only to give the club significant potential to cover multiple needs going forward.

With every trade, there comes risk. With any Phillies-Red Sox trade involving Cole Hamels for a trio of highly regarded prospects, there will be risk for both clubs. But right now, these two organizations seem like a near-perfect fit. They just need to find the exact right particulars. And for Ruben Amaro, he simply cannot get this one wrong.

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