Thursday, January 26, 2012

MLB Speculation: What Could the Phillies Fetch in a Trade for Cole Hamels?

The Philadelphia Phillies aren't a franchise that is afraid to make an unpopular move. If the front office feels as though there is a move to be made that will improve the future of the franchise, they'll pull the trigger with the hesitancy of a cold blooded killer: Instantly.

Just ask Cliff Lee how the Phillies feel about making an unpopular move. He was the star of the club in 2009, but wary of their chances of signing him long term, the Phils sent him packing, shipping him to the Seattle Mariners for a couple of prospects with high ceilings.

The list of unpopular decisions, from the perspective of the fan base, is a rather lengthy one, but a topic that is neither here nor there in this context. The topic of this post is going to be about the future of left handed starting pitcher Cole Hamels.

About a week ago, I outlined the theory behind the statement that the Phillies' options regarding the future of Hamels are two-fold: Either work out a contract extension with the club's' longest tenured pitcher or send him packing.

That's right, I'm suggesting that if the Phillies can't agree to a new deal with Hamels, he should be traded.

Sure, this wouldn't be a popular decision amongst the fans, but sometimes, in order to make a business decision, you have to cut all emotional ties. With Roy Halladay and Cliff already under contract and making at least $20 million per season, the Phillies would set an unprecedented mark by adding Hamels to that list. It would make them the first club in history to feature three starting pitchers earning at least $20 million, because, realistically, Hamels is going to earn at least that much.

That's just the rotation.

The rest of the club is getting expensive as well. Ryan Howard's contract extension is about to kick in and he is set to earn at least $20 million as well. Hunter Pence is due a raise, and Shane Victorino is set to become a free agent.

With that in mind, the Phillies will have limited resources to address several areas of need next winter. When all of those contracts come off the books, the club will be in need of a starting pitcher, a third baseman, and a center fielder, none of which is a position where the players come cheaply.

It may be an unpopular decision and sound like blasphemy to some, but somebody has to say it: The best business decision may be to trade Cole Hamels.

Obviously, that decision stems from a lack of high ceiling players in the upper tiers of the Phillies' farm system. With numerous holes to fill and a lack of prospects ready to step in and play at the MLB level, the Phillies are once again going to spend a pretty penny on the free agent market should they stay the course.

With top tier starting pitching in high demand, a number of teams would show interest in Hamels, even at his current price of one-year and $15 million. The question then becomes as simple as this: What would the Phillies look for in a trade?

Well, the simple answer is that (hypothetically speaking, of course) the Phillies would be looking for at least three high-ceiling prospects, two of whom are close to the MLB and one of whom will have a tremendous impact at the MLB level.

Three positions that the Phillies could look to address in a trade for Hamels are a third baseman, a starting pitcher, and a center fielder, likely in that order of importance.

Third base is the position with the most glaring lack of depth in the organization. While players like Maikel Franco and Cody Asche could someday have an impact, they are still years away, and the Phillies don't have years to wait.

A starting pitcher may be an unlikely trade target given the Phillies' depth in that area, but if you find an opportunity to add an impact pitcher, you don't pass on it. While Trevor May could be knocking on the MLB's door soon, other pitchers like Brody Colvin, Jon Pettibone, and Jesse Biddle are still years away.

The case is the same for a center fielder. The Phillies have plenty of toolsy outfielders, but none are a sure bet to make the MLB and none are particularly close to contributing.

If you can address each of those three areas, it is my personal opinion that you trade Hamels without thinking twice. The question then becomes: Which teams would be interested? Which teams match up best with the Phillies?

At various points throughout the off-season, the Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Toronto Blue Jays, and New York Yankees have all been linked to various starting pitchers.

However, with the Tigers' recent acquisition of Prince Fielder and the Yankees' acquisitions of Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda, both of those clubs would likely be only on the periphery. The Rangers have a full rotation, and wouldn't overpay for Hamels. The Twins likely don't have the resources to land the lefty.

That leaves the Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Royals as teams that I think would be the best fit, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the have the resources.

Though the Red Sox wouldn't be be able to make a move for Hamels without clearing cap space (perhaps sending Kevin Youkilis back to the Phillies?) they have the prospects to get a deal done. The Phillies would surely have interest in third baseman Will Middlebrooks or starting pitcher Anthony Ranaudo. One of those two would headline a deal, and the Red Sox have enough second tier prospects to get the job done.

The Blue Jays, on the other hand, are in a much better position to make a deal. They are well under the luxury tax threshold and have a farm system that is absolutely stacked. Interestingly enough, the Phillies have had interest in re-acquiring Travis D'arnaud over the off-season, though, the Jays are unlikely to part with him, but one must wonder whether or not the two clubs have had discussions.

The Jays also have a slew of pitching prospects, headlined by Daniel Norris (who cannot be trade until next summer after being taken in last season's draft) and Noah Syndergaard. Jake Marisnik is a toolsy outfielder the Phillies may have some interest in, and any of those guys could headline a package the Phillies would talk about.

The team that I believe is the best fit is a surprising team: The Royals. At a glance, there doesn't seem to be much of a match here, but the Royals are a team that isn't far away from competing. In fact, they're very, very close to being competitive in the AL Central, even after the Tigers' acquisition of Fielder.

Like the Blue Jays, they have the money, and they have the prospects. The real question is whether or not they would be willing to part with some of the top talent they are banking on to turn the system around to acquire Hamels, who could realistically lead their franchise back to a winning season.

Would the Royals part with Moustakas? 
Would the Royals be willing to part with third baseman Mike Moustakas? Would they  be willing to part with top left handed starter Mike Montgomery, or prized outfielder Wil Meyers? Would they be willing to part with Cheslor Cuthbert or John Lamb?

The bottom line is this: Trading Cole Hamels has to make the Phillies an obviously better team, especially moving into the future, than they are at the moment. You don't make the trade if that's something you can't accomplish.

However, the Phillies have a strong team, even without Hamels, to compete in the short term. If trading Hamels allows you to keep stride with young teams like the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves moving forward, I'd pull the trigger without blinking.

And I have little doubt that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has thought the same thing.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Bleacher Report Round-Up: Bold Predictions, Role Model Players, and Spellbinding Teams

As teams gear up for the 2012 season, there has been no shortage of surprises this winter. Perhaps the biggest surprise has been the ineptitude of super agent Scott Boras, who was forced to settle for a one-year deal for former Philadelphia Phillies' closer Ryan Madson (with the Cincinnati Reds) and has yet to find homes for two of the winter's top talents: Prince Fielder and Edwin Jackson.

But the free agent log jam runs much deeper than that. Powerful first baseman Carlos Pena has yet to find a home, and Roy Oswalt is still looking for the right opportunity. Brad Lidge is out to prove he still has something left in the tank, as the baseball world waits to see whether or not the Texas Rangers have their ace in Yu Darvish.

The moral of the story: Stay tuned. Normally during this time of year, we're trying to figure out which budget conscious free agents are going to find new homes, but there are still big fish to fry. As you wait and wonder, here are a couple of slideshows that I wrote for Bleacher Report during the week.

1.) Bold Predictions For Every Phillies' Player

This slideshow kicked up a bit of a stir, as we debate what actually constitutes as a "bold" prediction. Is a bold prediction an outlandish statement with a remote possibility of coming true? Perhaps a bold prediction is a statement that shows change in a player. Maybe a bold prediction is a reason to be cautiously optimistic or prepared for the inevitable failures of a certain player.

So in this slideshow, I've made predictions for every player that projects to be on the Phillies' 25-man roster, including why I believe that Chase Utley is still an elite second baseman, and why Mike Stutes still has a lot to prove at the MLB level.

2.) 25 Philadelphia Phillies Your Kids Can Look Up To

The title says it all. This slideshow features 25 players that your kids should be looking up to for various reasons, including building character, learning how to play the game, and showing passion for the game of baseball.

This list features a wide range of players, from current stars to Hall of Famers, and from fiery, pesky shortstops to a future United States Senator.

3.) Philadelphia Phillies: 25 Most Spellbinding Teams in Franchise History

If you want to take a look at some of the great moments in Phillies' history, I would suggest scrolling through this slideshow, were I take a look at 25 of the best teams in franchise history, and give you ample reason as to why the fans couldn't peel their eyes away from them.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Phillies Making Huge Mistake By Settling For One-Year Deal For Cole Hamels

Baseball is a funny sport. The off-season is a strange time of year in the baseball world for a number of reasons. There are no games being played, but a ton of work to be done.

I'd love to be a fly on the wall for some of those front office meetings, listening to some of the conversations, ideas, and proposals exchanged among the experts, because without a doubt, only the most sensible of those conversations make it into the news.

The Philadelphia Phillies are having an abnormally strange off-season this winter. Jim Thome is back in town. Jonathan Papelbon is the new closer. Dontrelle Willis is a reliever, and Ryan Madson is a member of the Cincinnati Reds.

As strange as that may seem to some, here's a bold statement for you: The Phillies are about to make their biggest mistake this winter by doing something that most general managers would be praised for in certain situations: Playing it safe.

In this piece from Comcast SportsNet's Jim Salisbury, with quotes from Phillies' assistant general manager Scott Proefrock, it is revealed that the Phillies plan to offer left handed starter Cole Hamels a one-year deal this winter to avoid arbitration. From my perspective, the Phillies can take three, legitimate directions for Hamels, but the kicker is this:

A one-year deal in any way, shape, or form is the worst one.

Hamels is under team control for the 2012 season one way or another. If he and the Phillies are unable to reach an agreement, both parties will go to arbitration and settle on a salary for the upcoming year. In a nutshell, this would be playing it safe for the Phillies.

Agreeing to a one-year deal is nearly a formality at this point, but the thinking behind the process would be that general manager Ruben Amaro would be able to negotiate a contract extension with the Phils' third ace sometime during the season.

How did that work out for Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals?

Granted, those are two entirely different scenarios, but the Pujols saga in St. Louis should teach the Phillies a valuable lesson: There are no guarantees that Hamels will be wearing red pinstripes in 2013. After failing to reach an agreement with Pujols heading into Spring Training, the first baseman refused to discuss a new contract during the regular season, fearing it would impact his play.

Now he's a member of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Phillies are in a similar situation with Hamels. Though both sides are willing to discuss a new contract, and both sides want Hamels to be a member of the Phillies well into the future, the fact that they've been unable to make any strides towards a new deal should be concerning, especially considering the fact that Amaro has made most of his contract extensions in the month of January.

Though there have been no definitive reports suggesting that this is the case, the reason to believe that there is a sizable gap between what the Phillies are offering and what Hamels is looking for is obvious.

The Phillies will look to use a couple of aces with comparable numbers as the framework for a Hamels extension. The first would be Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers, who signed a five-year, $80 million contract prior to the 2010 season, the average annual value (AAV) of which is $16 million.

The second comparable is a deal that Hamels' agents would be wise to try and discredit. That deal is between the Angels and their ace, Jered Weaer, who gave the Angels what is considered to be a "hometown discount," signing a five-year, $85 million deal, the AAV of which would be $17 million.

AP Photo
With those two contracts in mind, it shouldn't be hard to find the middle ground in negotiations. The Phillies should be willing to offer Hamels a deal of at least five seasons worth somewhere in the range of $80 - $90 million.

While that would be a fair deal for Hamels, his agents are licking their chops at the thought of taking him to free agency. He would be the best starting pitcher available in yet another thin class for pitching, and teams like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are known to have interest in his services.

In the prime of his career and left handed, there is little doubt that Hamels, on the free agent market, would be much more comparable to Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia, both of whom signed mega-deals as free agent lefties at the top of their class.

That should give the Phillies some pause. They know that if they want to sign him to a contract extension, they'll have to pay Hamels at least $20 million a year. At that point, the Phillies would be carrying a payroll with more than $60 million committed to three starting pitchers for the next few seasons. Is that a wise business proposition?

Of course, this would be the best option for the Phillies. Hamels is a homegrown starting pitcher, and the Phillies have locked up most of their homegrown players. Signing him to a contract extension before the season makes a lot more sense than giving him the opportunity to explore other offers on the open market, but the second best direction may surprise you some:

Trade him now. We'll discuss that in another post.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Bleacher Report Round-Up: Turning a New Leaf, Fantasy Payroll, Player Comparisons

Being a Featured Columnist for the Philadelphia Phillies for Bleacher Report has opened a number of doors for me as I pursue a career in journalism. I've interviewed a number of current and former baseball players, including former MVP of the Boston Red Sox, Fred Lynn, and was able to get a taste of what covering the Phillies' beat is like by covering the team from Citizens Bank Park.

That was kind of a long winded explanation for the point I was trying to get across here, which is more simply said as: I take pride in the work I do for Bleacher Report.

The company has come a long way over the last year or so, bringing aboard credible writers and approaching sports journalism in a way that no organization has ever done before. There will always be lingering questions about credibility, but at the end of the day, regardless of my reputation, I realize that the only way to gain support is by doing good work. The recognition will come later.

So with that being said, I've decided that at the end of each week I'll post a round-up of the slideshows I've written for Bleacher Report during the week, for those of us who crave baseball 24/7.

1.) Philadelphia Phillies: 25 Reasons 2012 Will be Different than 2011

In this slideshow, I break down 25 reasons that the 2012 season will be a completely different experience for the Phillies. I have laid out why each player is in store for something new in 2012 and took a look at the rest of the National League East, and what each of those factors means for the Phillies in 2012.

2.) Philadelphia Phillies: Handing Out Their Payroll Based on Success

This slideshow kicked up a bit of a stir in the comments section. In this one, I looked at how the traditional means of creating a payroll in the game of baseball can lead to an inefficient product on the field, and compared those salary numbers to the amount of money I would pay each player based on the success of their 2011 season alone. That means that I only valued statistics in this process, and created some interesting results.

3.) Comparing Every Philadelphia Phillie to a Former Player

In this slideshow, I simply took various aspects of a current Phillie's career and compared them to the various aspects of a former player's career. This created some interesting results. For example, I examined the route Mike Stutes took to the MLB in 2011, and compared that route to former Phillies' reliever Toby Borland (a story provided by fellow Bleacher Report contributor, Mike Lacy.) I compared Domonic Brown to Darryl Strawberry, and some way, some how, managed to link Hunter Pence's career statistics to... Aubrey Huff?!

As always, thanks for reading, and I appreciate any feedback you have to offer!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Philadelphia Phillies Still in the Market for a Third Baseman

With the holiday season in the rear-view mirror, and people getting back into the swing of the daily grind, be it children in school, adults at work, or whatever the case may be, one thing now comes into focus for those of all ages: The countdown to Spring Training has begun.

Though there are some big free agents still occupying the free agent market, a quick glance at the Philadelphia Phillies' depth chart would lead one to assume that their shopping for the winter was pretty much completed. Heading into the off-season, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. needed a couple of  things from the free agent grocery store.

A veteran closer? Check. The Phillies signed Jonathan Papelbon to a lucrative, four (potentially five) year deal. An improved bench? Check. After re-signing back-up catcher Brian Schneider, only he and utility man Wilson Valdez remain from last year's reserves. The club signed free agents Jim Thome and Laynce Nix to provide some left handed pop, and acquired Ty Wigginton from the Colorado Rockies to do the same, but from the right side of the plate, waiving goodbye to Ben Francisco in the process.

Albeit for maybe a small signing, like a fifth outfielder to hold down the fort while Ryan Howard recovers from his torn Achilles tendon, the Phillies seem pretty much done, right?


A number of sources believe that the Phillies are still in the market for a third baseman, and while there haven't been any names bandied about as of late, it is clear that none of them will be able to mark down the Phillies as a potential landing spot if the team is unable to move current third baseman, Placido Polanco.

After the Phillies were dispelled from the postseason last October, both manager Charlie Manuel and GM Amaro Jr. were relatively clear about their desire for an upgrade at third base, and while the latter's stance has changed over the course of the winter, one must wonder whether or not he is simply downplaying his interest.

After all, Polanco is certainly no guarantee heading into 2012. The third baseman will be 36 this season, and is coming off of an off-season in which he had surgery to repair a double sports hernia. This comes on the heels of a slew of other injuries, including to his back and elbow.

The Phillies have made no bones about their concerns about not only his health but offensive production. Last season, Polanco posted a slash line of just .277 / .335 / .339. For a corner infielder with no power, that simply won't do.

During the Winter Meetings in December, the Phillies were actively shopping Polanco to other teams, though in the long run, no trade was consummated. This, however, was in large part due to the fact that the Phillies had made progress on a deal with Jimmy Rollins, their Plan A. Plan B was to acquire a third baseman with more power.

One man may have changed the Phillies approach from "either or" to "both" this week: Prince Fielder.

When news broke that the Washington Nationals were the leading candidate to sign Fielder, the rest of the National League East went on high alert. Adding Fielder to an already impressive offense and vastly underrated pitching staff would, simply put, make the Nats a contender.

 But what does this mean for the rest of the NL East?

I was able to get in touch with a source this week, and though he wasn't able to divulge much information, he did comment on Fielder. When asked what a potential deal with the Nationals would mean for the rest of the NL East, the source said, "You have to be blunt about that situation: He [Fielder] is a game-changer. Teams are preparing to counter. It's your classic arms race."

With that statement echoing loud and clear, you can already see the results of that potential arms race. The Miami Marlins pulled the trigger on a deal to acquire former Chicago Cubs' starter Carlos Zambrano, and the Atlanta Braves have revisited talks with the Baltimore Orioles about All-Star outfielder Adam Jones.

The question then becomes: What will the Phillies do?

Unless they are able to find a match on a Polanco where they wouldn't have to eat the entirety of his salary, the answer is probably nothing. Polanco does, however, still have value. He is a supreme defender at two positions and when healthy, a very good contact hitter. Some team will take a chance on him if given the opportunity.

At that point, what are the Phillies' options. First and foremost, they would like to add a bit of power to that position, and while this doesn't have to be a 30 home run threat, they'll be looking for some power regardless. One name you can probably put the axe to is David Wright. In terms of salary and prospects, the chances of the Phillies and New York Mets matching up on a deal here are slim to none.
AP Photo

One name to definitely keep an eye on is Wilson Betemit. Betemit is a guy that the Phillies have talked about in the past, and I've been told, haven't completely closed the book on. While the upgrade is probably minimal (.795 OPS, 8 HRs in 2011,) teams are probably looking back on a 2010 campaign in which he posted an OPS of .889 and hit 13 home runs and wondering if that can be replicated. A BABip of .361 shows that that would be an unlikely scenario.

The best thing Betemit has going for him is that he will probably be relatively inexpensive when the dust settles, perhaps to the point that the Phillies can make a move for him without having to move Polanco.

Of course, they could always explore the trade market as well. While Chase Headley of the San Diego Padres isn't a name likely to be moved this winter, he would be a good fit for the Phillies. Perhaps a more likely target is Alberto Callaspo of the Los Angeles Angels, a likely victim of the depth chart should Mark Trumbo prove his health.

At the end of the day, however, I would expect the Phillies to stand pat at third base. There just isn't a great deal to be had for a third baseman, and the addition of Wigginton should help the Phillies alleviate some of the stress on Polanco, who Amaro Jr. believes can still be an everyday player.

Just know this: The Phillies' off-season isn't nearly as over as you think it is.