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cole hamelsYesterday, Ken Rosenthal reported that Phillies ace Cole Hamels had been claimed on waivers by an unidentified team. Overnight, Philadelphia radio host Mike Missanelli reported that the team to claim Hamels was … the Chicago Cubs.

Missanelli’s report is unconfirmed, and I can’t speak to his credibility as a news-breaker in the Philadelphia news market. Dave Kaplan did ask around, and although he didn’t get confirmation, it sounds like he did hear that it was plausible. From where I sit, I could see the Cubs claiming Hamels, which I actually offered previously as a reason I didn’t think he’d be traded to a contender this month (we’ll get to that in a moment). That is to say, I could buy this as true.

So, for the purposes of discussion, let’s say Missanelli’s report is accurate, even as we’re all thoughtful people and understand that we should wait for more confirmation before going nuts. And, of course, even if Missanelli’s report is accurate, you shouldn’t go nuts. The Cubs claiming Hamels would be interesting (and good) news for tangential reasons, but likely not because they’re going to end up with Hamels. In fact, that’s very unlikely.

Let’s discuss.

As you know from the August trade primer piece, claiming Hamels on waivers does not mean the Cubs will get Hamels. In fact, I’d caution you right now that it’s extremely unlikely that it happens. All this means is that the Cubs were willing to take on Hamels’ contract, and the Phillies have the opportunity to let Hamels go to the Cubs for free (won’t happen), trade Hamels to the Cubs (almost certainly won’t happen), or pull Hamels back and keep him (very likely to happen).

If this report is true, the two sides have two days from the date of the claim (which was reportedly yesterday) to work out a trade.

There are a few significant hurdles to actually getting a trade together in this situation, and that’s not even considering the fact that Hamels can reportedly block a trade to the Cubs, who are on his 21-team no-trade list. Interestingly, I explored some of these hurdles in a back-and-forth with Buster Olney back on August 1, who subsequently wrote about the possibility that the Cubs could claim Hamels on waivers (not that I’m saying my comments led to him writing it – just pointing out that he got on board with the idea):

And therein lie the biggest hurdles to getting a deal done: if the Phillies found the offers they got back in July unpalatable, when they had a market of 29 teams to deal with, how are they going to find a satisfactory offer when they have a market of just one team? Moreover, with Hamels due to make just about his market rate after this year, his only “surplus” value to a trading team is what he could offer them down the stretch run this year. To the Cubs, that has no value.

In other words, the only way the two sides would be able to come together on a trade for Hamels is if the Phillies’ asking price – reportedly extremely high before the Deadline – has come down significantly. If you’re the Phillies, wouldn’t you rather wait just a couple months so that you can try and market Hamels to every team? Sure, there’s some value to the Cubs in getting the first crack at trading for Hamels, and sure, maybe they bump their offer slightly. But the Cubs are in the advantageous position here – they are, if the report is true, the only team to which the Phillies can trade Hamels – and their offers would necessarily reflect that. You don’t pay market price for an asset when it’s not actually on the open market. It’s bad business, bad valuation, and a bad use of resources.

None of this is to say that I wouldn’t be happy to see the Cubs land Hamels, or that he doesn’t have value. But, you have to keep an even head here: Hamels turns 31 in December, and is set to make $22.5 million in each season from 2015 to 2018, with a $20 million 2019 club option ($6 million buyout), and the option vests at $24 million if Hamels is healthy and pitches a bunch in the later years of his deal. That’s a really expensive contract for a pitcher post-31. In a series of posts at FanGraphs, you can see that Hamels has very, very little surplus value after 2014, and isn’t worth even one elite prospect, let alone the multiples that the Phillies were demanding before the Deadline. Again, getting a trade together is going to be nearly impossible.

If you need more evidence, look to Philadelphia beat writer Matt Gelb, who couldn’t be more vociferous in his position that the Phillies will not trade Hamels to the claiming team. He makes most of the same points I make above, but from the Phillies’ perspective. In the end, the only “thing” that comes of this process, in Gelb’s opinion, is that it highlights a team for the Phillies that could be interested in trading for Hamels in the future. Maybe this will be re-approached in the offseason. Now is probably not the time.

But there is good news in all of this. I don’t want to ape Dave Kaplan, who writes basically the same thing, but it was my thought as well: the good news here is that the Cubs were willing to take on Hamels’ contract. An impact, 31-year-old starting pitcher at $22.5 million starting in 2015, and the Cubs tell the baseball world, “We want that guy.” I’ve said for quite some time now that the Cubs will have a lot of money to spend going into next year, but this would be the first tangible proof that, yeah, they’re willing to spend big on the right pitcher (again, assuming the waiver report is accurate). And they’re willing to do it as soon as this offseason to improve the team for 2015 and beyond.

That makes me very happy, and it should make you happy as well, even if the two sides can’t work out a trade. Maybe they get back together in the offseason, and work something out. Maybe the Cubs buy up another big-time arm instead. Or in addition. Or maybe they prefer the 2015 crop of arms, which projects to be excellent. We don’t know.

But the possibilities are there.

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