Sunday, January 4, 2015

Cole Hamels: Six Suitors

A look at a half-dozen teams in the running for Phillies ace
Cole Hamels remains on the trade blocks, and he remains a hot commodity. Ruben Amaro continues to ask for a big package of young players and prospects in return for the lefty ace. There appear to be at least six suitors who remain serious contenders for his services. Let’s take a quick look at each, including why they want/need Hamels, and what they might have to offer in return.
1. SAN DIEGO PADRES
The Padres have to be considered the front-runners in the Hamels discussion for a number of reasons. First is the obvious: Hamels is from San Diego, he would be essentially going home. It’s a beautiful area to live and raise a family. And now from a baseball sense, they are getting serious about contending. New GM A.J. Preller has been extremely aggressive this off-season, bringing in hitters like Matt KempJustin Upton, and Wil Myers. One look at their depth chart shows that they simply don’t have the ace at the top of their rotation to match up with pitchers such as the Dodgers’Clayton Kershaw or the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner. Hamels would easily fill that ace role. And they have the top-level prospects it would take to get such a deal done in catcher Austin Hedges, outfielders Hunter Renfroe and Rymer Liriano, pitchers Matt Wisler and Casey Kelly, and infielders Trey Turner, Joe Rondon, Franchy Cordero andTaylor Lindsey
2. BOSTON RED SOX
The Bosox have been rumored to be involved in Hamels discussions for a couple of months now. They remain interested, they remain with the need, and they have the assets it would take. The biggest holdup would appear to be two-fold:
there are other options, and are they willing to meet the price? The need remains obvious when you look at their depth chart, and then realize what the other teams in the division have going for them. Like the Padres, this is a team that finished poorly a year ago, but that has made a big splash in the off-season. However, like San Diego, that splash has mostly involved hitters: Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. They did bring in three new arms for the rotation in Rick PorcelloWade Miley, and Justin Masterson. None of those is a true ace. With the Orioles still strong, the Blue Jays having improved, the Rays still having strong pitching, and the Yankees primed to rebound, Boston still needs that horse atop the rotation. Hamels fits the bill. They have the prospects with players like Xander BogaertsMookie BettsGarin CecchiniRafael DeversManuel MargotBlake SwihartAnthony Ranaudo, and Henry Owens. Now, do they really want to win the World Series in 2015? We’ll see.
3. LOS ANGELES ANGELS
The Halos have not been talked about much regarding Hamels. That is one thing that has my curiosity piqued, because Amaro is known for secrecy. The attractiveness of the Southern California area and lifestyle for Hamels is there. The need for the Angels, a serious contender short on starting pitching, is there. But do they have the pieces it would take to get such a deal done? A look at the Angels depth chart shows just how serious that starting rotation shortfall is right now. But a look at their top prospects shows they might not have the pieces. They just acquired lefty Andrew Heaney from the Marlins, and he would have to be in any such deal. Their top positions prospects areKaleb Cowart, who plays 3rd base, a spot where the Phils already have their own young depth, and Alex Yarbrough, a 2nd baseman who might be a nice piece in a deal, but not the central piece. 19-year old outfielder Natanael Delgado might also have value in a deal. More likely, it would take Heaney and another top arm such as Sean Newcomb, plus a position prospect or two. This is not nearly as good a package as the Padres or Red Sox could put together, but it might be enough. 
4. SAINT LOUIS CARDINALS
The Cards are perennial contenders, so they check off that box for Hamels, and they are in the midwest, which checks off another, as his wife is from Missouri. Finally, while they do already have an ace in Adam Wainwright, and they would at first glance of the depth chart seem to have starting pitching options already, those options have questions marks. Bringing in Hamels would give them a devastating lefty-righty combo of aces, bump arms like Lance Lynn and John Lackey back to the 3-4 slots, and allow the younger arms to continue developing in the 5-6 slots. It would change the Cards from Central Division contenders to World Series contenders. They have the pieces as well. Pitchers like Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez, prospect hitters like outfieldersStephen Piscotty and Charlie Tilson, and prospect arms like Rob KaminskyMarco Gonzales, and Alexander Reyes. The Cardinals might see Hamels as a luxury more than a need. But this would be a difference-making deal that they need to explore.
5. KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Another team that you never, ever hear in the Hamels conversation, which is just silly. This is a team that won the American League Pennant last season, has a solid core of position players, and definitely does not want to be a one-year flash in the pan. They play the best defense in all of baseball, and they have the best bullpen in the game. They also have a couple of nice, young starting pitching options. What they don’t have in their depth chart is that starting pitching proven ace to lead the rotation. They are losing James Shields in free agency. He filled that role perfectly the last couple of years, and if he is not replaced, that loss will absolutely hurt them. Again, they are in the midwest, and they are a contender, ticking off boxes for Hamels and his family. They might have the pieces as well. Infielders Raul Mondesi and Hunter Dozier, catcher Chase Vallot, outfielder Jorge Bonifacio, and a slew of pitchers including Kyle ZimmerSean ManaeaMiguel AlmonteBrandon Finnegan, and Christian Binford. The right package could probably be made here. Would the Royals have the vision to complete such a deal? The idea that they don’t have the financial resources to handle Hamels contract is ludicrous. Do they want to spend that money is the question. 
6. TEXAS RANGERS
They are southwest, not midwest or southern Cal. But they are central to both areas of the country, and could make for a nice compromise by the Hamels family. They have also reportedly been on the list of teams that Hamels was willing to waive his no-trade clause for in the recent past. The Rangers are an interesting team. Devastated by wave after wave of key injuries a year ago, the team fell from regular contenders to the worst record in the American League, the 3rd worst in all of baseball. So they wouldn’t seem to fit his desire to go to a contender. However, it’s very possible that the Rangers could bounce-back quickly, especially if they added an ace arm such as Hamels at the top of their rotation. A check of their depth chart shows that not only could they use his arm, but they might also be able to use an outfield piece that the Phils could include such as Domonic Brown. They will be getting Prince Fielder back, a huge piece in the middle of their lineup with Adrian Beltre. They have the pieces, with a slew of young infielders such as Jurickson ProfarRougned Odor, and Elvis Andrus, who is still just 26 years old. Their top prospects are also attractive such as 3rd baseman Joey Gallo, outfielder Nick Williams, catcher Jorge Alfaro, and pitchers like Luke JacksonJake Thompson, and Alex Gonzalez. Even an arm like Martin Perez, who had Tommy Johnsurgery in late-May 2014, is still just 23 years old.
IN TRUTH, any team could use a Cole Hamels. Teams like the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Seattle Mariners could all make a run at him with the right package. Much still depends on the outcome of Max Scherzer and James Shields signings. When those two free agents are off the market, a feeding frenzy for a talent like Hamels would be much more likely to happen at that point.
The big rumor and speculation story of this off-season of deals and change, Cole Hamels name will remain a hot one until he either is dealt, or until he has stayed long enough for the Phillies to return to contending status themselves. 

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