The Phillies have three options with Cole Hamels, none of which is clear cut. It’s a great year to have a trade asset like Hamels — the added wild card teams in each league will make more teams buyers — but the Phillies are in a unique position.
The Phils were nine games under .500 entering play Tuesday at Citi Field. It was their worst record through 81 games since 1997 and, at 36-45, the most games they’ve been under .500 since the summer of 2006.
As poorly as they’ve played, the Phillies have also been plagued by bad luck (low BABIP on line drives, lots of one-run losses, etc.) and injuries. But the luck figures to turn a corner and Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay are getting closer to returning. So there is no solution or trade to be made during the first week of July. The next few weeks will determine which of the following three routes the Phillies take…
1) Keep Hamels, re-sign him
Up until a few weeks ago, this was the most realistic scenario. Hamels is the best homegrown pitcher the Phillies have ever developed, and all of the trades and signings Ruben Amaro has made in recent years mean nothing if the Phils can’t hang onto their most prized piece.
But if you keep Hamels, you risk losing him in free agency without much compensation. The new collective bargaining agreement reduces the value of the draft picks teams get for losing top-tier free agents.
Just think about what took place last summer with the Mets and Jose Reyes. Reyes was experiencing a career year and had tons of trade value, but the Mets stood pat. It gained them nothing… they finished 77-85 and lost Reyes to free agency.
You don’t want that to happen with Hamels. You don’t want the Phillies to miss out on the chance to replenish a barren farm system just to go 78-84 or 80-82.
2) Trade Hamels
Cole Hamels will have no shortage of suitors. Some may argue that his value is reduced because a trading team would get little compensation if it can’t re-sign him this winter, but I just don’t see it. There are 24 teams in contention right now for either a division title or a wild card berth, and almost every single team needs pitching. On July 25, when there are 10 or more teams on the playoff precipice and a No. 1 starting pitcher is just sitting there on the trading block, compensation picks mean very little. Teams think about the future, sure. But they also think about now.
Hamels gives a team a chance to not just make the playoffs, but make/win a World Series. He would drastically improve the World Series hopes of the Reds, Cardinals, Red Sox, Rangers and Tigers and give a playoff jolt to the Diamondbacks, Blue Jays and White Sox.
When you look at what type of package Hamels could command, the easy comparison is the C.C. Sabathia deal of 2008. The Indians dealt C.C. to the Brewers that year for power-hitting first baseman and top-25 overall prospect, Matt LaPorta, a first-round pitcher in Zach Jackson and highly-touted, athletic seventh-round outfielder Michael Brantley, who is now an Indians staple.
That is the type of package that makes sense for Hamels — two former first-rounders, one of which (LaPorta) who is/was seen as a can’t-miss prospect, and a high-upside bat. It doesn’t matter how LaPorta, Jackson and Brantley have progressed, because at the time the haul for Cleveland was very good.
Such a trade would upgrade the Phillies’ farm system, which is currently ranked 27th of 30 teams by Baseball America. The Phillies have very little going on offensively in the minor leagues. Six of their top eight prospects are pitchers, and the two who aren’t are Freddy Galvis and catcher Sebastian Valle.
If the Phillies trade Hamels, they could center a deal around a third baseman such as the Rangers’ Mike Olt, the Tigers’ Nick Castellanos or the Diamondbacks’ Matt Davidson. All three are top-100 prospects who are improving every year and can hit for average and power.
Third base is the Phils’ prime position of need. Placido Polanco‘s days are numbered, but the third base market is so weak this winter that it probably makes the most sense to pick up Polanco’s option for 2013. David Wright has an option that will be picked up (or he’ll be extended), Kevin Youkilis will be 34 and coming off a down year, and after that the next best available 3B is Mark Reynolds. Yeah.
If the Phillies do trade Hamels, the following is the best-case scenario…
3) Trade Hamels, then re-sign him
This idea has been brought up over the last few days and makes a ton of sense. Concede the season and trade Hamels, get much-needed young talent, then re-sign Hamels in order to make a push again next season. The Phillies are still a very good team when complete, and they could easily compete for an NL East title if all of the pieces are back and healthy for 2013. Engaging in a full rebuild is unnecessary at this time.
But the question arises: Would Hamels re-sign with a team that just traded him?
I don’t see why not. Hamels is a very intelligent, mindful, philosophical player. His quotes are always well thought-out and he clearly understands the business of baseball. I don’t know that he’d see a trade as a slap in the face, he’d see it as Amaro doing what he needs to do for the short- and long-term.
It has been asked if this has ever happened before — has a team ever traded a superstar at the deadline only to re-sign him that winter? No instances come to mind, but that instead speaks to the uniqueness of the Phillies’ situation. You don’t often see a team with such a poor record that is a legitimate World Series contender for the following season. You don’t often see a team that seeks to sell one summer only to buy several months later.
Ruben Amaro is in almost uncharted territory and has the ability to get very creative over the coming weeks. If the play on the field is leaving you uninspired, this trade season is a reason to keep your focus on the Phillies.
Our Ryan Dinger doesn’t agree with me. Check back Thursday morning for his take.