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.

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