Mid-Season Trade Candidates—Cole Hamels

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Name: Cole Hamels

Tale of the tape: 28-years-old; bats left; throws left; 6’3; 200 lbs.

Contract status: $9.5 million salary for 2012; free agent at the end of the season.

Would the Phillies trade him?

Earlier in the season, there was no chance they’d deal him. The talk of a mid-season selloff for the Phillies was suggested by websites and “insiders” in the interests of generating webhits. It stemmed from a paucity of other things to write about. Now that’s no longer the case.

The Phillies have played poorly and are still waiting for Ryan Howard and Chase Utley to return from injury with no concrete dates for their comebacks and no justifiable expectation of what they’ll provide or that the Phillies will be in contention when they do return.

Roy Halladay is on the disabled list and won’t be back until late July at the earliest.

In recent years the Phillies have been unabashed buyers at the deadline, but their injuries, age, demolished farm system and dwindling hopes to contend are making doubling and tripling down an exponential mistake and will speed their teamwide decline. Are they willing to keep Hamels and hope that he’ll stay as a free agent? Hamels has given no indication that he’ll provide a hometown discount and paying him $140-$160 million isn’t the soundest financial decision for the Phillies. Their payroll is bursting as it is and they have to draw the line somewhere. That somewhere is increasingly looking like it will be Hamels’s contract demands.

It’s unlikely that they trade him, but if they’re hopelessly behind in both the division and the Wild Card, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has to listen.

What would they want for him?

If they’re trading Hamels, they’ll have a hole in their rotation for 2013 and would need a young starter who could—at the very least—slot in behind Halladay, Cliff Lee and Vance Worley immediately. They also need a bat that can play third base, second base or centerfield.

Which teams would pursue and have the prospects to get him?

Forget the National League East. The Phillies aren’t trading him within the division no matter what they’re offered. They’d prefer to send him to the American League if they can help it, but would send him to a National League club if their season is lost.

The Yankees, Orioles, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Rays, Indians, Tigers, White Sox, Angels, Cardinals, Pirates, Giants and Dodgers could all do it.

Would Hamels sign with the team that trades for him and forego free agency?

At this point, it makes no sense. But if a team comes up with the money and blows the other clubs out of the water as a preemptive financial strike, why not? The Dodgers are a team to watch in this regard because they have a new ownership and will be looking to make a splash, win in 2012 and put a team together that their fans can buy tickets to see for years to come.

What will happen.

I don’t think the Phillies are going to give up on the season under most circumstances. If things really spiral out of control and they’re trailing in both the division and Wild Card by double digits, they have to deal him.

That’s hard to see happening, but it’s possible.

What teams that are interested in Hamels should do (and presumably are doing) is to call Amaro and let him know they want Hamels and he should start thinking—in an act of due diligence—about which prospects he wants in exchange.

A month-and-a-half ago, it was a fantasy to suggest that the Phillies would be deadline sellers. 45 days of uninspiring baseball, the still-awaited returns of Howard and Utley and Halladay’s trip to the disabled list may not have put Hamels on the table, but he’s a specialty item on the menu available for a hefty price and contingent on the environment.

The Phillies’ environment is growing dark.

That dark will put Hamels in play.

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Creative Writing and Cole Hamels

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Is there a reason that Cole Hamels‘s pending free agency is constantly updated as if there’s something to discuss?

It’s more trolling and laziness when there’s nothing to write about, so a “story” is formulated regardless of reality.

Here’s my logical outsider’s perspective from both sides of the bargaining table.

For the Phillies.

Eventually there has to be financial sanity; a realization that this cycle is ending and they must shift focus on a future that’s approaching faster than anticipated. At some juncture, they’ll need to restrain spending on the big league product and rebuild the minor league system.

The Phillies have a lot of players making a lot of money and giving Hamels the contract he’s going to demand may not be the best possible maneuver for them.

Cliff Lee is guaranteed $87.5 million from 2013 through 2015.

Roy Halladay is guaranteed $20 million in 2013 with an option for another $20 million in 2014 with kickers based on innings pitched that, barring catastrophe, he’s going to achieve.

Ryan Howard is guaranteed $105 million from 2013 through 2016.

Chase Utley is signed for 2013 at $15 million.

Jonathan Papelbon is guaranteed $13 million annually from 2013-2015 with a $13 million vesting option for 2016 based on games finished.

Jimmy Rollins is guaranteed $22 million for 2013-2014 with an $11 million option for 2014 based on plate appearances. If the Phillies aren’t as good as they’ve been in recent years, Rollins is not going to get enough at bats to activate the option.

Hunter Pence is arbitration eligible after this season and a free agent after 2013.

Shane Victorino, Placido Polanco and Joe Blanton are free agents after this season.

Hamels is making $15 million this season and they could backload his contract to account for the money coming off the books in the future, but then they’ll be paying $25-30 million annually for a pitcher at age 33-36 as they’re doing with Lee now. It’s easy to say they should let Victorino leave along with the likely departures of Blanton and Polanco, but the Phillies farm system is gutted and they’ll still have to replace their centerfielder, their third baseman and their fifth starter. With Halladay, Lee, Hamels and (if his elbow doesn’t blow out) Vance Worley, that’s a good 1-4 starting rotation. They could find someone to fill out the fifth slot and be okay pitching-wise with Papelbon as the closer. But their problem this season has been a lack of offense and they’re going to be replacing Victorino’s offense and defense with whom? And who’s going to play third?

The Phillies have shown little willingness to give their young players a chance to play in their new incarnation of a star-studded, big name-centric club and they don’t have any major prospects ready to fill those positions for 2013.

This is also assuming Utley comes back and is: A) able to play; and B) able to contribute 60-75% of what he was in his prime. With his recurring knee issues, that’s not a reasonable expectation.

I suppose they could swing a deal with the Red Sox to get Kevin Youkilis for 2013 while he’s signed and stick him at third, but he’s been injured and declining similarly to Utley.

B.J. Upton will be too expensive to sign as a replacement centerfielder and to keep Hamels and to find a third baseman who can hit. Torii Hunter could be a stopgap for a year or two in centerfield. Or they could keep Victorino.

For argument’s sake, let’s say the Phillies pay up to keep Hamels. What they’ll be doing is mortgaging the future—when both Lee and Halladay will be gone—and rely on an aging Hamels to be their ace for a team that will be in the midst of a major rebuild. He’ll be untradeable, fading and expensive. If they keep him, it would be with an eye on chasing a title in 2013-2014 and not worrying about 2015 and beyond.

Is that worth 7-8 years at $160-180 million?

For Hamels.

There is no reason whatsoever for Hamels to agree to a down-the-line contract during the season and shun his first opportunity at free agency while he’s pitching brilliantly at age 28.

Hamels has thrown at least 180 innings from 2007-2011 and he’ll break that threshold again this season. He’s got the post-season bonafides including the NLCS and World Series MVPs in 2008. He can handle pressure and a tough home crowd.

Why shouldn’t he maximize his dollars by exploring free agency?

The Yankees are always looking for pitching and given the disasters of their attempts to develop their own, if the 2012 season doesn’t go according to their mandate of championship or bust, they might use their checkbook to fill their self-created holes as they did after 2008 when they signed CC Sabathia.

The Dodgers new ownership is aggressive, willing to spend and Hamels is from Southern California.

The Cubs have money; the Mets’ finances are getting in order; the Orioles are finally showing signs of legitimate improvement; the Rangers consider everything and willing to pay; the Blue Jays are about ready to go for a title; the Marlins could continue their spending spree.

Hamels likes Philadelphia and presumably would like to stay, but he’s not going to do the Phillies any favors when it comes down to dollars.

In short, there are landing spots for Hamels. Why would he sabotage himself by signing now?

The answer is he won’t.

The reality.

This talk of the Phillies and Hamels having “discussions” or “contact” or “preparing to engage” or whatever terminology is considered new is just that: talk.

Or nonsense.

There’s not going to be a deal during the season and if the Phillies want to keep Hamels, it’ll take a big check. It won’t be until after the season and both sides will examine their circumstances and move forward accordingly.

It could go either way. Don’t let “insiders” or websites tell you any different.

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