So you most likely saw the report from yesterday that indicated the Dodgers were interested in getting into the Cole Hamels sweepstakes, and that’s too fascinating not to talk about. Obviously, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-jin Ryu make for a fantastic top three for one more year, until Greinke inevitably opts out after the season. Just as obviously, Dan Haren and Zach Lee or Juan Nicasio or Carlos Frias are not in the least an acceptable back end of the rotation. The Dodgers will get at least one more starter, and maybe two.
Hamels is appealing for some pretty obvious reasons, of course. With 4/$96m remaining on his deal, he won’t demand the long-term and huge contracts that Jon Lester and Max Scherzer are going to get, and, of course, he’s really, really good. He’s not in the truly elite top-level tier of guys like Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, and Scherzer, but he’s comfortably at the top of the second tier of starters along with pitchers like Jordan Zimmermann and Madison Bumgarner. He’s a guy you want on your team, of course, and for the first time, it seems like the Phillies have finally accepted their fate and have turned to the idea of trading him.
That’s the problem, though: by all indications, Ruben Amaro, Jr. seems to be continuing to make unrealistic demands on the market, just like we heard in July, when he reportedly asked the Dodgers for all three of Joc Pederson, Julio Urias, and Corey Seager. Hamels is valuable, but not as valuable as the Phillies seem to think. And that’s going to make this very complicated.
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Last week at FanGraphs, Jeff Sullivan tried to put together potential combinations of trades that would send Hamels to Boston, seen as the most serious suitor and a club that needs starting pitching more than ever after loading up on Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. If you read the comments, you can see that it was not well-received from Phillies fans, because Jeff made the cogent point that since Hamels is making market-value for what looks like the start of his decline phase (and don’t forget his shoulder soreness from last year), what you’re trading for isn’t value. It’s opportunity. Giving up top prospects is the price you pay for the right to pay Hamels basically what he’d get, per year, if he were a free agent.
Part of the reason, as Jeff noted, that the Royals paid so highly for James Shields, a similar pitcher two years ago, was because the salaries due him were below-market, which adds value. Unless the Philles plan on eating a ton of Hamels’ contract, that’s not the case here. (The shorter commitment helps, obviously, but Hamels is by no means an inexpensive player.)
That’s not to suggest that the Phillies should give up one of the best starters they’ve ever had for peanuts; of course not. You’re not getting out of this without giving up something you’ll miss. But Jeff was right in the fact that if the team (or more likely, a portion of their fans) think this is going to be the equivalent of the Bartolo Colon deal (where the Expos sent Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, and Brandon Phillips) or the Mark Teixeira deal (where the Braves dealt Elvis Andrus, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison, and Neftali Feliz), well, that’s just not happening. This is a deal that would help to restock the Phillies’ system, but it won’t do it by itself. If and when Hamels is dealt, Phillies fans are almost certainly going to be disappointed with what they get back.
You should read Jeff’s entire post to see how the valuation systems on prospects works, and I’d also recommend this series by Phillies site Phillies Minor Thoughts, one that actually puts some math and thought into prospect valuation and what Hamels would be worth. As a Phillies fan, I’m sure there’s inherent bias like we all have towards the Dodgers, but there’s at least analytic process behind it. On what a Dodgers trade might look like:
I am not that high on Pederson which may skew this a bit. Seager has entered into being a real stud prospect and might be off the table here. Overall it is going to be difficult for a Phillies-Dodgers trade to work. The Dodgers really only have the three studs available to trade (Grant Holmes can’t be traded until July). A deal involving 2 of the 3 is going to be hard for the Dodgers to handle and 1 of the 3 doesn’t work because of the lack of a second piece.
And he’s right — the big gap between the top three and everyone else in the system is tough to bridge. It’s going to be hard for Amaro to sell fans on lesser prospects, even if they’re still good ones, and remember, any good trade proposal is going to annoy fans from both sides. I think this is a good start, because there’s acknowledgement that asking for all three top prospects is laughably hilarious, and I really do think the Dodgers consider Seager completely out of the question. You’re not getting Hamels without giving up one of them. But can you do it without two? There’s so much pitching potentially out there in free agency or trade — Lester, Shields, Brandon McCarthy, Jeff Samardzija, Shields, Zimmermann, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Mat Latos, Doug Fister, etc., etc. — that the top prices the Phillies want might just not materialize.
Now you can play with those names all you want, but remember that even if you try to include Carl Crawford or Andre Ethier — and the Phillies did have one of the worst outfields in baseball last year — you’re not really adding value to the Phillies. You might be taking it away, depending on how much money moves. Maybe you can say, well, here’s Urias, Reed, Scott Schebler, and Yimi Garcia, which isn’t a bad haul at all for Philadelphia. If you want to make it really confusing and toss in a free outfielder, or take a risk on Cliff Lee‘s arm, or try to figure out a way to get Jimmy Rollins, well, good on you, but know that adding more players to a fake deal just makes it less realistic. (Just think about fans who love to drop “our six guys for your seven” proposals.)
Ultimately, I’d like Hamels a lot, because the rotation could have a hole when Greinke opts out. But I don’t think I want to pay what Amaro wants. I’d rather just go out and get one of those second-tier guys — McCarthy please! — for only money, or for a much smaller prospect haul. Probably, the Red Sox are going to get Hamels. They have the bigger need and the deeper farm system. Unless Hamels absolutely insists on returning to his native Southern California, this doesn’t seem like the right fit.