In reading along my Twitter feed, following comments on Facebook, and in fielding questions via DM and email, the question keeps popping up, now with a bit more regularity: when are the Phillies going to trade Cole Hamels?
There is really a very simple answer to that question, though I doubt that it will be satisfactory to everyone.
That simple answer is: when someone meets the admittedly and deservedly high price for his services.
The Phillies are very publicly involved in rebuilding their team, so that high price will be in quality prospects. Not just one prospect, but multiples.
A team who wants Hamels should expect to pay with two of their very best prospects, as well as another 1-2 possible mid-level prospects tossed in for good measure.
Before we examine the possible trade partners, and some prospects who should be involved in any discussions, let's take a look at what the acquiring team will receive.
Cole Hamels is a 31-year old, left-handed, 9-year veteran of MLB. He has made at least 30 starts in the last 7 consecutive seasons.
He has just one season (2009) in which he has allowed more hits than innings pitched. He has struck out at least 194 batters in 6 of the last 7 seasons.
In the current season he is 5-5 for the worst team in baseball, with 70 hits allowed in 87.1 innings, and a 91-30 K:BB ratio.
Also, Hamels is payroll certainty. He is signed through 2018 at $23.5 million per season, with a team option for 2019 at $20 million even. So an acquiring team has an ace for at least four more years beyond the current season, at current day rates.
With a number of big name free agents pitchers hitting the market this off-season, the cost of such a player is sure to skyrocket. All that, and the Phillies have said they would pay part, most, or all of the contract, depending on the return package.
With all that in mind, we're back to "but when will he be traded?"
The answer is, he may not be. Or the answer is, in the next few days. Or the answer is, in a month or so.
Again, the bottom line answer, if you didn't get it earlier, is this: when someone meets the admittedly and deservedly high price for his services.
Let's take a look at some of the obvious and rumored potential suitors, and what they might have to offer (alphabetical by organization): I left out teams like the Tigers, Yankees, Royals, and 1-2 others simply because I don't think they have the pieces to get it done.
3rd baseman Devers should be high on a Phillies demand list from the Bosox for Hamels.
Suddenly the darlings of MLB, are the Astros for real, or are they a year or two ahead of realistically contending? Acquiring an ace like Hamels to front their rotation for the next 4-5 years would be a perfect move.
Houston holds a 2-game lead in the AL West, and is right in the battle for the AL's best overall record.
Some have speculated that the Halos don't have the prospects to get such a deal done. I beg to differ, but maybe that's because I like their young lefty arms Andrew Heaney and Sean Newcomb more than those naysayers.
This might even require the Phillies receiving both of those young arms in return. If the Phils think a bat like Kyle Kubitza could hit enough to win a corner outfield spot eventually, this might work.
Would the Angels be willing? Big market, competition from Dodgers, divisional competitor in Houston getting much better. They need something like a Hamels deal. Kids may be worth it to them.
With shortstop Corey Seager likely out of the equation, Urias would likely have to be in a Hamels package.
The Dodgers are in first place in the NL West, but they lead arch-rival and defending World Series champion San Francisco by just a single game. This is a team with Series aspirations of their own, and a budget to match.
Sure, they have Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke already. Still, SoCal kid Hamels would really make them difficult to beat in the regular season, the first step towards that goal, and a matchup nightmare in the playoffs.
Keeping him from crosstown Angels and division rival Giants and Padres also important.
Julio Urias likely has to be the linchpin in a deal, though the Phils might go for LA's top two draftees, Walker Buehler and Kyle Funkhouser. Toss in an outfielder such as Alex Verdugo, maybe a pitcher like Zach Lee or Joe Wieland. There are pieces here to do a deal.
McGuire as a 2nd piece, with either of two pitchers, Tyler Glasnow or Jameson Taillon, as the lead could get a Bucs deal done.
Whether Hamels would want to go to Pittsburgh is another matter. But the pieces are here for a deal, and the Pirates, who have made the playoffs each of the last two seasons only to quickly disappear in them, should be looking for a next-step type move. This would be it.
Piscotty not a boomer, but he is a nice outfielder with good bat-to-ball skills who could slot well into RF in a Hamels package. It would take more, however.
Along with the Red Sox, one of the leading contenders for a Hamels deal going all the way back to winter. The main reason? It's Hamels' hometown. It's also a great place to pitch, the antithesis to Citizens Bank Park.
The Padres went out and improved their lineup this off-season, but are still sitting just at the .500 mark. They are just five games back in the NL West, trailing both the Dodgers and Giants, but are also just 3.5 out of the 2nd Wildcard.
This would appear to be another good match, need and prospects-wise. The Rangers need a big arm like Hamels at the front of their rotation. Just 2.5 games behind the Angels, Hamels would likely be the difference in this division race for either team.
Texas is still also just a game out of the 2nd Wildcard. So this is a difference maker for them.
This is another deal where the pieces are there, and where the need aligns up perfectly. The Blue Jays may already be the best team in the AL East. They have begun to make a run, moving over the .500 mark in recent days. They are right in the middle of both the division and Wildcard races.
But everyone around the team and across baseball knows, they don't have the starting pitching to sustain this run. Adding Hamels answers that question, and this is another team in on Papelbon as well.