Sunday, July 5, 2015

Cole Hamels Takes Mound as Trade Deadline Looms

Cole Hamels is scheduled to take the mound for the Phillies in this afternoon's series finale at Turner Field against the host Atlanta Braves. 
For the ace lefty, every outing now is possibly the final time that he will pitch in Phillies pinstripes.
The MLB non-waiver trade deadline comes at midnight on July 31st. So the team has just 3 1/2 weeks to deal Hamels without having to first pass him through the waiver process. 
Hamels would almost certainly be claimed in that process, and so the odds are that if he is going to be dealt this summer, it will happen in these next few weeks.
Serious trade rumors and speculation have swirled around Hamels for months, stretching all the way back to the winter. Much of the early speculation centered on the Boston Red Sox, who seemed like a perfect fit.
Boston made some big early off-season acquisitions to bolster their offense, bringing in both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, hoping to turn around a last place finish. 
It was obvious to most everyone in the game that the Red Sox still needed at least one, if not two, top of the rotation starting pitchers to actually make that happen, particularly in the wake of losing their own ace lefty, Jon Lester, to the Cubs in free agency.
But the Red Sox brass stubbornly refused to deal a couple of their top prospects to the Phillies in order to acquire Hamels, who many felt fit the bill perfectly. Much as many predicted, including myself, the Red Sox have indeed struggled on the mound.
Boston sits with a 38-45 record, in last place in the American League East once again. However, they are just seven games out in the division, and six games back of the Wildcard playoff race. 
They are tantalizingly close, and there is no doubt that with Hamels fronting their rotation, Boston would be right in the thick of both races, instead of on the outer fringes having to pass multiple teams.
The Boston-Hamels situation highlights one of the problems in dealing a player of his caliber. There is really no one else who matches his profile. 
Hamels has a tremendous record, is healthy, has succeeded on big stages in the biggest games, and is under contract control for multiple seasons. Bottom line, he is the most valuable starting pitcher available.
But what that also means is that the Phillies are asking a big price in exchange for their ace. It is almost assuredly going to take one or two truly elite prospects, among the top in any team's farm system, to obtain the pitcher. 
And that probably just gets you to the front of the line. In total, a prospect package for Hamels might include 3-4 total prospects coming back to the Phillies.
The Phils are also in the driver's seat in Hamels negotiations for another reason - they simply do not have to deal him at all at this time. If a team wants Hamels, they will have to pay up. 
If they pay up, they get a true ace at the top of their rotation for a pennant race, the postseason, and for at least 3-4 seasons to come.
If no team is willing to meet the Phillies price at this time, the club can hold on to him into the off-season, when Andy MacPhail will take over as the new club President and name a new General Manager. 
The team would then have Hamels on the market again through the off-season and into 2016.
Much has been made of the fact that teams can wait until the off-season, and simply sign one of a number of quality free agent starting pitchers expected to be available at that time, thus having to pay nothing in prospects. 
While that is true, what is also true is that those pitchers will cost a great deal in contract dollars.
Hamels is locked up with a contract that, while hefty-looking now, is surely only going to look more and more affordable the further we move into the future, and the more those free agents receive in their own contracts. 
Also, the Phillies have telegraphed that they would be willing to pay some or all of the Hamels contract, if they receive the right prospect package in return.
For the Phillies, this is not about dollars and cents. It is completely about receiving multiple young pieces in return that can help advance their roster rebuilding process.
If the team feels that it is receiving a couple of players who will be longterm members of a future winning team, they are willing to pay with their current ace and his contract.
Hamels is not the only Phillies player on the market. Closer Jonathan Papelbon, centerfielder Ben Revere, catcher Carlos Ruiz, 1st baseman Ryan Howard, and outfielders Domonic Brown and Darin Ruf would all have to be considered as available via trades. 
So would pitchers such as Aaron HarangJerome Williams, and Kevin Correia, though because of injuries and/or talent restrictions, moving those arms is not very likely.
Papelbon and Revere are the two pieces there with the possibility of bringing something of value back to the Phillies. 
Particularly with the 34-year old closer having such a strong season, some contender could absolutely use him as a bullpen difference-maker in a pennant race and playoff run.
These next few weeks should see increasingly specific trade rumors develop around both Hamels and Papelbon. 
The teams in the AL East, AL West, and NL West should be particularly watched, as well as any team involved in the Wildcard races in both leagues. Those are places where Hamels would absolutely have an immediate, direct affect for an acquiring team.
Almost anything could happen regarding the Phillies ace starting pitcher. Fans of the Phils should enjoy each of his starts, such as this afternoon's, as each holds the very real possibility that it will be his last for their team.

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