Trade Market For Cole Hamels

Cole Hamels is coming off one of the best seasons of his career at the age of 30 years old. Nevertheless, the Philadelphia Phillies are looking to trade their ace for a substantial haul. After finishing last in their division with a 73-89 record, the Phillies plan to undergo a rebuilding phase in order to restock their talent supply. The Phillies current roster is full of veterans signed to poor contracts, but Hamels is one of the few players who could bring back a significant return in a trade. Hamels is signed to a reasonable 6-year contract worth $144 Million through 2018, which is just about what he is worth, leaving little surplus value. While the Phillies appear willing to deal Hamels and expedite their rebuilding process, it appears they are expecting a significant haul in return for their ace. According to Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com, the Phillies are seeking “at least three top prospects”. They are looking for 2 of those players to be Major League ready. This is essentially the same asking price reported at the 2014 Trade Deadline when the Phillies were unable to make a trade. While the Phillies certainly have the right to ask for whatever they want, the market is unlikely to meet their demands, if only because few teams have this level of talent that they are willing to trade.

For the 5th straight season, Hamels eclipsed the 200 inning plateau with better than an 8.0 K/9. In 2014, he also posted the best ERA of his career at 2.46, which was supported by 3.07 FIP. For his career, Hamels has been very consistent with a career ERA of 3.27 and FIP of 3.48, in route to a career fWAR of 34.4 over his 9 seasons in the league. While Hamels is an outstanding talent and will certainly garner a great amount of interest on the trade market, there are still plenty of obstacles to any trade. For starters, Hamels has a 21-team “no trade” clause, which was recently updated, so it is unclear who is on the list. While Hamels will likely approve a deal to any contender he will have leverage to demand more money or some other compensation in order to waive his “no trade” clause. Another challenge for the Phillies in trading Hamels will be finding a team that is willing to meet their asking price, rather than signing one of Jon Lester, Max Scherzer or James Shields and not sacrificing any talent, except the draft pick. Hamels has only 4 guaranteed years remaining on his deal and will likely earn less average annual value (AAV) than each of the above, except Shields. Teams will likely prefer signing one of the free agents and retaining their prospects, rather than pay Hamels similar money and lose 3 top prospects. Despite the fact that many teams are interested in acquiring a true ace like Hamels, the market for his services will be relatively thin because few teams can come close to the Phillies’ demands.

There are seven teams that both have the financial will power and prospect depth to make a deal for Hamels.

Dodgers: They were linked to Hamels at the Trade Deadline because of their incredible financial flexibility and elite Minor League talent. With the possibility of Zack Greinke opting out of his deal after next season, the Dodgers could pursue Hamels to go for it in 2015 and also give them an option if Greinke departs. In terms of Minor League talent, the Dodgers have shortstop Corey Seager, outfielder Joc Pederson and left-handed pitcher Julio Urias. Each of these players are consensus Top 50 prospects, but there is no chance the Phillies land all three for Hamels, and would likely only receive one added with lesser prospects in any deal.

Cubs: The Cubs seem poised to go for it as early as 2015 and if they miss on the Free Agent aces, they could turn to the Phillies. They have an unmatched pool of offensive talent in the upper minors, so they could afford to deal a few of their prospects and still be among the top systems. Some players the Cubs could offer include shortstop Javier Baez, shortstop Addison Russell, outfielder Albert Almora, catcher Kyle Schwarber, right-hander CJ Edwards, and outfielder Billy McKinney. A deal involving either Baez or Russell would likely only include them and a couple lesser prospects. Deals starting with the other players above would likely involve two of the names, as they are lesser prospects, but still very valuable.

Cardinals: The Cardinals have 7 candidates to be above average starters 2015, but they are still among the few teams that have the finances and Minor League depth to acquire an ace like Hamels. They are the least likely team to acquire Hamels, but were linked to him at the Deadline, so those talks could resurface. Trade talks would likely center around one or two of right-handed Carlos Martinez, left-handed Marco Gonzalez, and Rightfielder Stephen Piscotty with other lesser prospects added in.

Red Sox: The Red Sox were interested in Hamels at the Trade Deadline, but because they were not in contention decided against paying the steep price, in the hopes that it would go down in the offseason. The Red Sox have plenty of prospects in the upper minors, but many scouts differ in their assessments of each. One of utility man Mookie Betts, catcher Blake Swihart or left-hander Henry Owens plus some of the more advanced but lower ceiling players would likely get the deal done. However, the Red Sox will be very reluctant to part with either Betts or Swihart as they are both elite talents that will have good opportunities with the club.

Yankees: The Yankees obviously have the financial capacity to take on his contract and are in the market for an ace to anchor their rotation, but they lack the Minor League talent in the upper minors to match the current asking price. The Yankees do, however, have enough high upside talent to entice the Phillies. Prospects they could offer include right-hander Luis Severino, outfielder Aaron Judge, and catcher Gary Sanchez, along with a few other lower level players.

Mariners: The Mariners may not necessarily need an ace, since they have both Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, but they have the financial room and prospect depth to get Hamels and push them over the cusp of the playoffs. A deal would center around one of left-hander James Paxton or right-hander Taijuan Walker. The Mariners would likely have to include shortstop Brad Miller and another talented prospect.

Rangers: Texas’s interest in Hamels depends entirely on whether they feel they can be competitive in 2015, after finishing last in the AL during an injury-plagued season. If they feel Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo will be healthy and productive then Hamels could be a possible addition, especially with all the injury concerns associated with their current rotation. Jurickson Profar could be the centerpiece of a deal, if the Phillies believe the injuries are behind him. Otherwise a deal could center around Joey Gallo and some lesser prospects.

The Cardinals and Rangers are the least likely of the above teams to swing a deal for Hamels, but they do have the necessary pieces to pull off a trade. The best move for the Phillies is likely to wait until the three Free Agent aces sign with teams and then try to deal Hamels to the teams that were unable to land one of the Free Agents. The Red Sox or Cubs seem like the most likely destinations, assuming they cannot sign a Free Agent. Either way, it is unlikely the Phillies will receive the steep price they are demanding, but nevertheless, will receive an impressive haul if they do trade Cole Hamels.

Anthony Cacchione

Top Area of Need for Each NL Contender

With the All-Star Break upon us, more trades will begin to occur, so we now look at the top area of need for each NL contender. The top area of need for each AL contender will follow later.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Set-up Man/Closer

The Diamondbacks bullpen has been relatively strong this season with a 3.33 ERA, which ranks 6th in the NL. However, the Diamondbacks have had trouble late in games, especially when Heath Bell was the closer. The Diamondbacks have also blown the most saves in the MLB with 19 blown saves. Even though the Diamondbacks got their closer, JJ Putz, back from injury, they still need a late-inning reliever, as Putz is tied for the team lead with 5 BS’s. Unless the Mets make Bobby Parnell available, Kevin Gregg may be the best value of any late-inning relievers.

Los Angeles Dodgers: 2nd Base
The Dodgers have been hot of late and quickly climbed from the cellar of the NL West to being just 2.5 games back of the first place Diamondbacks. However, the Dodgers are still just a .500 team, and are 24th in the MLB in runs scored. One position really holding the Dodgers back is 2nd base, where their second basemen have slashed just .254/.315/.316. The best 2nd basemen that could be available is Chase Utley of the Phillies; however the Phillies have not yet decided whether to buy or sell, but are currently leaning towards buying.

Colorado Rockies: Starting Pitcher
The Rockies may choose not to buy, but the NL West is certainly up for grabs. Especially since the Rockies just got Tulowitzki back from the DL, they should consider acquiring a starting pitcher to help push them into the Postseason. The Rockies rotation ranks 12th in the NL in ERA with a 4.54 mark. It doesn’t seem that new addition Roy Oswalt will fulfill their expectations as he has pitched to a 7.64 ERA in his first 4 starts, and is now on the DL. If the Rockies are going to reach the playoffs, they must acquire another solid starter. While Matt Garza may be out of the Rockies’ price range, the Twins’ Kevin Correia may be more realistic.

St. Louis Cardinals: Shortstop
Shortstop has long been a position of need for the Cardinals, and this year is no different. They hoped that Pete Kozma would be able to step up this year and provide strong defense and adequate offense. Kozma has been able to provide value on the defensive side of the field, but his offense has not, as he has slashed just .232/.279/.293. The trade market for shortstops is pretty weak this season, which is why the Cardinals are hoping a platoon of Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma can hold the lineup together. In the unlikely event that the Indians make Asdrubal Cabrera available, then the Cardinals could pursue him.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Right Fielder
The Pirates sit just 1 game behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central, but most of that success is owed to the pitching staff, which leads the MLB in ERA. One position that could especially use an offensive upgrade is Right Field, where the starter, Travis Snider, has produced an underwhelming .224/.294/.332 slash line. One trade possibility is the White Sox’s Alex Rios, who is also under contract beyond this season.

Cincinnati Reds: Left Field
Ever since Ryan Ludwick landed on the DL after the first game of the season, the Reds have been looking for his replacement. Internal options have failed to solve the problem, with Chris Heisey struggling to stay healthy and few other internal options coming through for the Reds. If the Cubs are willing to deal Alfonso Soriano within their division, then he could be a fit for the Reds.

Atlanta Braves: Center Field
The Braves have no glaring need, except in Center Field, where free-agent signing, BJ Upton, has struggled mightily. The Braves may not want to bench or platoon BJ for an extended period of time, especially since he is in the first year of a 5 year, $75 Million deal. However, a .177/.266/.300 slash line is not enough production for a team looking for a playoff berth. Justin Ruggiano of the Miami Marlins may be a good fit, as he is cheap financially and the Marlins are clear sellers.

Washington Nationals: Starting Pitcher
The Nationals have struggled in many areas this season, but the one position they must improve is their 5th starter spot. The Nationals starters as a whole have been very good, but that is in large part due to the excellence of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez. However, they are receiving horrible production from their 5th starter, Dan Haren, who was signed to a one year, $13 Million deal this past off-season. Haren is currently on the DL for the 2nd time, but even when healthy, Haren has compiled a 4-10 record with a 6.00 ERA. The Houston Astros’s Bud Norris may be a good fit for the Nationals, especially because he is controllable beyond this season.

Philadelphia Phillies: Right Fielder
The Phillies are right on the border between buying and selling, and in my last post I saw them more as sellers, but they have been hot of late and are currently leaning towards buying. If they do choose to buy, then many have speculated that they must shore up their middle and setup relief pitching, but their biggest area of need is in Right Field. Phillies Right Fielders have accumulated the 29th ranked WAR at -0.6. Free agent acquisition Delmon Young has failed to fulfill expectations, as he has slashed .268/.323/.419 with just 7 home runs. The Phillies do not have the prospects to acquire someone like Alex Rios, but a reunion with Raul Ibanez could be a possibility.

Anthony Cacchione

Top 5 NL spring training battles

5. Washington Nationals, Catcher

The Nationals have two plus defensive catchers in Wilson Ramos and Kurt Suzuki. Kurt Suzuki is the incumbent starter since being acquired from the A’s at the deadline last year after Wilson Ramos tore his ACL last May. Just because Suzuki is making $6.45 million this year does not mean he will get the bulk of playing time behind the plate as the Nationals view Ramos as their catcher of the future and he was playing well before his injury, posting a (.265/.354/.398, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 11 R) batting line before his injury. Ramos is clearly the more talented player and also has a higher ceiling. It would not be surprising to see Suzuki traded sometime this year as $6.45 million is a lot to pay a back up catcher as the Nationals have other viable options at backup.

4. Atlanta Braves, Third Base

After trading Martin Prado as one of the pieces in the Justin Upton deal, the Braves have a vacancy at third base that they will try to fill by using newly acquired Chris Johnson and former power prospect Juan Francisco. Rather than have one player win the position outright it seems that the Braves will use the two as a platoon. This could turn out to be a very cost-effective strategy because when you combine their 2012 stats they would have posted a (.258/.302/.442, 24 HR, 108 RBI, 65 R) slash line while making a combined $975,000 good for a 2.5 WAR (FanGraphs). This year they will make a combined $3,355,000. It is looking like it will be a 60-40 time share with Johnson getting the majority of the playing time and Juan Francisco getting a good chunk of at bats against righties.

3. Philadelphia Phillies, Right Field

The Phillies brought in former MVP candidate and top prospect Delmon Young to see if he could return to his former self this year while also providing power off the bench and pushing Domonic Brown. The Phillies need for Brown to live up to his former top prospect status as they must inject youth and speed into their lineup after losing Shane Victorino at the trade deadline this past season. Not to mention a duo of Domonic Brown and Ben Revere would be a pair of formidable table setters for a lineup, that when healthy, has the potential to score a lot of runs.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks, Center Field

Even after trading Center Fielder Chris Young and former MVP candidate Justin Upton this off-season, the Diamondbacks still have a surplus of depth with the signing of Cody Ross. Despite already being a three year MLB veteran Gerardo Parra appears to be the one who will start the year as the fourth outfielder as his defense and arm would play up at every outfield position. The club likes what they have in young prospect Adam Eaton who posted .259/.382/.412 slash line and scored 19 runs in a 22-game audition last September. He has worked hard to get his defense to the point where he would be an above average center fielder and has the kind of plate discipline and speed teams want in a lead off hitter as evident by his .445 OBP and 106 stolen bases over the course of 3 minor league seasons. Just because Parra is slated to be the fourth outfielder as of now doesn’t mean he won’t get playing time; he racked up 430 plate appearances last year while appearing in 133 games and posting a (.273/.335/.392) slash line.

1. St. Louis Cardinals, 5th starter

The Cardinals are the envy of many organizations throughout baseball as they have 3 young fire ballers ready to come in and compete for the 5th rotation spot. The returning starter, Joe Kelly, posted a 3.51 ERA and a 6.31 K/9 through 107 innings pitched last year and is also one of the most athletic players on the Cardinals roster who is often used as a pinch runner for what it is worth. The second candidate is top pitching prospect Shelby Miller, who after a rough first half in AAA in 2012, turned it around and ended up being called up during September and pitching out of the bullpen to the tune of a 1.32 ERA and a 10.54 K/9 through 13.2 innings while also making the playoff roster. As of right now Shelby seems to be the favorite to win the spot as he came into camp with a little extra weight to help him stay durable through the hot St. Louis summer. The third candidate is Trevor Rosenthal who spent the majority of 2012 at AA as a starter pitching to a 2.79 ERA and a 7.98 K/9. He was then called up in late August and impressed many while pitching out of the bullpen as he regularly topped 100 mph in his late inning appearances. He also pitched well enough at the end of the year to make the play off roster and gave up no runs and only allowed two hits through 8.2 innings off post season action.

Big Tony will be publishing the top 5 AL position battles later tonight.

Ryan Kiernan