Evaluating The Trade Market For Cole Hamels

Philadelphia Phillies v New York Yankees

By Gabe Isaacscon

Before we know the availability of Johnny Cueto, Carlos Gomez, and others, Cole Hamels is far and away the biggest trade chip who will surely be available this July. The Phillies should’ve been active sellers this offseason, but they’ll have to hope the urgency of the trade deadline will prompt a bidding war among the many contenders. The three factors that determine a team’s ability to acquire Hamels are need, money, and prospects. The team has to need Hamels, has to have the money to absorb his contract, and the prospects to pay the Phillies’ small bounty.

Cole Hamels’ Contract – Acquiring Team Would Owe Minimum: ~ $88 Million

Year: 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
Obligation: Owed prorated $23.5 M $23.5 M $23.5 M $23.5 M $20 M team option, $24 M vesting option, $6 M buyout.

The way I see it, there are ten teams that clearly have no shot or interest in acquiring Hamels:

  • New York Mets: The Mets have a deep rotation already, which will keep them on the fringes of contender status. It’s unlikely the Phillies move Hamels inside the division, and the Mets likely don’t have the payroll flexibility to take on Hamels’ deal.
  • Washington Nationals: Though their rotation has underperformed, it is still one of the deepest in baseball.
  • Atlanta Braves: Their recent willingness to take on money (see: Bronson Arroyo) to improve in the future is admirable, but Hamels isn’t the type of acquisition that this team is interested in right now.
  • Colorado Rockies: Existing in constant semi-rebuild, this team isn’t in a position to add Hamels. They should be looking to shed the likes of Carlos Gonzalez, but that’s another topic for another day.
  • Arizona Diamondbacks: I’m not sure what to make of this franchise, and I’m not sure they know either. After dealing Mark Trumbo and Bronson Arroyo, it’s clear that they aren’t buyers and they aren’t adding payroll.
  • Tampa Bay Rays: Hamels would be the kind of addition that would make them even truer pennant contenders in the American League, but the money seems prohibitive. This farm system isn’t as deep as it has been in the past, and I don’t see Tampa moving their chips into the pot.
  • Kansas City Royals: The Royals, like Tampa, would be among the largest beneficiaries of a Hamels’ acquisition, but it just isn’t happening. They spent in the offseason, but I don’t think there’s wiggle room for this sort of future obligation – given the young players due for raises.
  • Oakland Athletics: Though they were a sleeper favorite of mine entering the season, Oakland appears destined to either sell or stand pat at the deadline. Some regression all around could actually bring them into semi-contention.

Now to rank the 20 real contenders for Hamels:

20. Miami Marlins: While I’m adamant that the Phillies wouldn’t trade Hamels within the division and I don’t think the Marlins have the payroll flexibility to take on Hamels’ deal, I just can never rule this team out. This franchise is nothing short of unpredictable, and a package that began with Mat Latos (and his contract), Christian Yelich, Brian Anderson, and more could probably be enticing.

19. Chicago White Sox: This might be too low for the White Sox. While I don’t think they’re contenders for the playoffs or Hamels, I bet they think they are. They made major moves this offseason, which haven’t panned out thus far, but the core isn’t awful. They have some real chips at the major league level, though I’m skeptical they have the farm system to work this one out. The biggest inhibitor here is Carlos Rodon. He’s the White Sox best chip, and I can’t imagine they move him here.

18. Minnesota Twins: The prospects are certainly there. The need is certainly there. The fringe-contention is there. Honestly, I think the payroll flexibility is there. This team checks all the boxes. Something about it just doesn’t feel right. I think the Twins are destined for a series of small moves this July, which probably won’t improve the team significantly or enough. They’re worth monitoring on many levels.

17. St. Louis Cardinals: Their situation is no different from teams that will rank significantly higher on this list, but it just isn’t a Cardinals-type move to pay the price to get Hamels. Their rotation has overachieved in light of the Wainwright and, to a lesser extent, Lynn injuries, but I imagine they just let time be their best friend here.

16. Pittsburgh Pirates: While the Pittsburgh media market is clamoring for the big move that this organization has ceased to make, I still don’t think it’s entirely likely. With the injuries to top pitching prospects, a Hamels deal would likely require Gregory Polanco – a piece that the Pirates do not want to part with. I do know they came closer than most realize to pulling the trigger on a David Price or Jon Lester deal last summer, but I don’t think they’re going to come quite so close this July.

15. New York Yankees: Payroll flexibility is the biggest commodity on this list – as many teams have both the need and requisite prospect talent. We don’t know what sort of money the Yankees have to play with at this deadline, but the AL East is wide open. Four teams from that division rank in the top-15 on this list, and that is no coincidence.

14. Detroit Tigers: I highly doubt the Tigers have the money or prospects to make this happen, but I wouldn’t rule them out. If they think they’re unlikely to retain David Price this offseason, then maybe they make this move for the present and future. Though they owe Justin Verlander an unfathomable sum ($112 M for the four seasons following this), they could make room with the contracts of Price, Yoenis Cespedes, and Rajai Davis coming off the books this offseason. Joe Nathan’s potential retirement could save $10 M, too.

13. Los Angeles Angels: Besides Garrett Richards, I’m not sure where this team gets any quality innings. This farm system has been quite weak for a few years, and I’m skeptical they’d want to unload the few quality pieces they’ve developed and acquired. The Mike Trout window may be open for a while, but if you’re getting quality production from Albert Pujols and Kole Calhoun, they should make a pass at it.

12. Seattle Mariners: It’s unfortunate that Felix Hernandez has never pitched in the playoffs, and it would be that much more exciting to see him in a winner-take-all wild card game. D.J. Peterson and Taijuan Walker would be a tempting package, if the Mariners want to eat all of the money remaining.

11. Baltimore Orioles: The rotation here is pretty deep already, albeit with mid-level quality options. An ace-type would do wonders for the O’s, but they may honestly have that already in Kevin Gausman. I’d rather plug Gausman into the rotation and save the other prospects and money, as opposed to packaging Gausman with other cost-controlled talent. I’m not sure the Orioles feel the same way.

10. Cleveland Indians: The Indians have a significant amount of bad salary that they could offload to make the money work. The need is all-too present. The question is simple: Would the Indians part with Francisco Lindor? I would, but I’m guessing they won’t.

9. Texas Rangers: Considering the loud rumors that Texas is in negotiations for Hamels, this could be embarrassingly low. The Rangers could fancy themselves contenders for this season, but it’s probably more for next – with the return of Yu Darvish – where they’d see dividends of such a trade. Between Profar, Olt, Gallo, Chi-Chi Gonzalez, Jorge Alfaro, and many others, the Rangers could surely put together a tempting package. Money has never been an issue at the Ballpark in Arlington.

8. San Francisco Giants: It’s been sad watching the Giants parade Tim Lincecum out there every fifth day. I think Lincecum could actually be quite valuable as a reliever, and I bet the Giants think so, too. My guess is that they have no desire to put someone with his salary in the bullpen, but his contract does expire at the end of this season. With Lincecum’s $18M coming off the books, the Hamels’ salary certainly wouldn’t be unacceptable. Do they have the young talent to make it happen?

7. San Diego Padres: I’m not sure if a Hamels trade for this team is good money after bad or the opposite. The moves in the offseason have unsurprisingly fluttered, leaving the team with gaping weaknesses. Acquiring Hamels wouldn’t help this team where they’re weakest, but it feels like the kind of move they’d try to make nonetheless. I highly doubt they have the prospects left to make it happen, but I have a funny feeling they’ll try.

6. Toronto Blue Jays: The Blue Jays score the most runs per game in baseball by a historic margin. In this run scoring environment, their offensive production is nothing short of shocking. However, they rank in the bottom-ten in run prevention. While the back-end of their bullpen is their primary need, both could be accomplished here. If the Blue Jays could somehow take on the Hamels and Papelbon contracts, the price to acquire would likely be significantly cheaper. Their payroll has been a point of much discussion in past years, but if there was ever a time to increase it significantly, this would be quite the opportunity.

Jonathan Papelbon’s Contract – Likely Owed Approximately $20 M

Year: 2015 2016
Obligation: Owed prorated $13 M $13 M vesting option with 48 games finished in 2015

Note: Papelbon has 26 games finished, as of 6/26. In any scenario, for the Phillies or elsewhere, where he remains the primary end-of-game reliever for the rest of 2015, the 2016 option is highly likely to vest.

5. Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers are not unlike the NBA’s Rockets. You can attach them to any rumor or player, and it’s somehow believable. The hole at the back-end of this rotation is gaping. Money isn’t an issue. They certainly have the prospect talent to make it happen. I honestly think that the Dodgers don’t feel great urgency to make a trade like this. They should rank higher, but they know the market well. With the resources they have, they could just sign David Price or Johnny Cueto this offseason. It would cost similar money but no prospects. It’s awfully appealing if they can afford to wait.

4. Philadelphia Phillies: There are going to be a lot of tempting offers out there for Cole Hamels, so it should be a sad reality that I think standing pat is among the most likely outcomes. I just cannot see the rationale, save for a completely and unexpectedly cold market for Cole, for holding on to this asset. Holding on to an almost 32-year-old pitcher when you’re so far from contention is nearly indefensible for me. His value only declines as he gets older and uses up more of the remaining bullets in his left arm.

3. Boston Red Sox: Even Joe Sheehan, a very adamant preseason Red Sox backer, tweeted this week offering to sell his remaining Boston Red Sox stock at any price. It goes without saying that this season has not gone as planned thus far, but it’s by no means too late to turn it around. The pitching has been an utter disaster, and this is a team with all sorts of trade deadline potential. Some have called for them to quasi-sell – dump veterans who aren’t as productive as perception may think they are. I think they mostly stand pat, but they certainly have the assets to make a big move. The top-three teams on this list all have smart front offices, and I trust that a deal would only be done on these teams’ terms.

2. Houston Astros: This year’s surprise contender is undoubtedly built for the future more than the present. The rotation is proving most problematic to sustained success, and Hamels would make a big difference here. I think the room to add payroll is almost definitely there, as this team has been built on young talent and riskless investments. Houston isn’t moving Correa or Appel. I think McCullers’ strong starts could make him a possible chip, though it leaves another immediate hole in the rotation. It’s unclear if Philadelphia would want high upside, lower level talent, but Houston does a nice array of mid-minors guys who could fill out a package here.

1. Chicago Cubs: The favorites, for me, have to be the Cubs. With Jon Lester’s struggles and the young players emerging sooner than anticipated, I think the Cubs’ window could be open sooner than most expected. If Lester isn’t going to add as much value deep into this contract, then the Cubs will certainly be looking to pursue another top-end arm. They have been linked to David Price, and Price has said he’d love to play for his former manager. The Cubs, like the Dodgers, could be inclined to simply spend in the winter rather than fork over the money and talent now. It all depends on urgency, but the anticipation has been building for 100 years in the Windy City.

I don’t think I’m offering a revelation here, but I would anticipate the Cubs trying to start an offer with Starlin Castro. I would imagine Russell, Bryant, Soler, and Schwarber are nearly untouchable, leaving an offer of something like Castro, C.J. Edwards, and Albert Almora. The Cubs also likely have the edge of payroll flexibility. Do they pursue Jonathan Papelbon as well? They certainly have a need in the back-end of the bullpen, with current options including Jason Motte, Pedro Strop, and Hector Rondon. Do the Cubs offer to take on a more-than-anticipated chunk of Ryan Howard’s albatross?

Ryan Howard’s Contract – Owed Minimum Approximately $50 M

Year: 2015 2016 2017
Obligation: Owed prorated $25 M $25 M $23 M team option or obvious $10 buyout

Note: There has been much written about how much of Howard’s contract Philadelphia would have to pay in order to move him, and the consensus is that he’s worth less than $10 M for the remainder of 2015 and all of 2016. Under any circumstance, the Phillies will have to pay the $10 M buyout in 2017.

I’m not going to write a complete post about the recent Diamondbacks/Braves trade, which saw veteran SP Bronson Arroyo and SS prospect Touki Toussaint go to Atlanta in exchange for utility infielder Phil Gosselin. Gosselin has little or no value. Arroyo is owed the remainder of his $9.5 M salary this season, as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery, and a moderate buyout for next year. In exchange for taking on Arroyo’s albatross, the Braves were compensated with the highly thought of Toussaint. This is relevant for exactly that reason: prospects and money are exchangeable commodities. There have been rumors that the Phillies were willing to more of Cole Hamels’ salary, in order to require greater prospect compensation and bring smaller market clubs into the bidding. This could, of course, work the other way. The Cubs could open up their checkbook to some of Philadelphia’s horrific contracts to lessen the Phillies’ inevitable ask.

The match is best for these two teams for exactly these reasons. The Cubs have the need for Hamels and the prospects to make a deal done. Even further, both of these teams have fascinating payroll flexibility to come to a potentially creative agreement.

Whether you agree or disagree, Gabe Isaacson wants your feedback. You can find him on twitter @GabeIsaacson, join in the conversation @CTBPod,on our Facebook page or download the Fandings app and debate him today!

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