One of the most exciting early August stories involved the Chicago Cubs claiming Phillies ace Cole Hamels off of waivers. No, a trade was never going to happen, but the entire exercise told us two things: (1) the Cubs really are ready to commit big money to a starting pitcher; and (2) the Cubs wanted Hamels.
Heading into an offseason where the Phillies really, really should consider rebuilding, that’s interesting information to have in your back pocket.
And, sure enough, at least one report out of Philadelphia already has big moves on the way for the Phillies, and it could mean a real chance that Hamels/Phillies/Cubs trade talks occur.
Howard Eskin reports that there are likely to be major shakeups in the Phillies front office in the near-term, which could lead to an increased willingness to part with some of their veteran players – that could include a Hamels deal for younger players. Eskin says the Cubs and Red Sox “want Hamels very much.”
Adding to the credibility of Eskin’s report? Mark Gonzales recently reported that the Phillies sent scouts to watch the Cubs’ final two series of the season.
Hamels, who turns 31 in December, is currently on a deal that will pay him $96 million over the next four years (or $110 to $114 million (because of varying options) over the next five years). He has consistently gone over 200 innings in his career, and is consistently worth 3.5 to 4.5 wins (per FanGraphs WAR). Wanting Hamels “very much” is understandable.
The question for any team trading for Hamels, however, is how much surplus value he’s actually worth in trade, given his contract. Were Hamels a free agent this offseason, his deal would likely match whatever Jon Lester will get – something in the five to six year, $100 to $140 million range? – which really isn’t too much more than he’s already making. So, Hamels’ trade value is debatably small (a little surplus value, plus the value of having him (without having to fight to sign him)), which is why the Phillies found no interested takers at their insane asking price this past Trade Deadline (reportedly, the Phillies wanted three top 30 prospects from the Dodgers).
Adding to the trickiness of a Hamels trade is the no-trade clause the Phillies give out to every player they sign for some reason. Essentially, Hamels can block a deal to 21 teams that he names each year. You can bet that, given these rumors, the Cubs will be on Hamels’ no-trade list this offseason, even if only to give himself a little leverage in the process. Would the Cubs be willing to guarantee Hamels’ 2019 option to get the deal done? Five years and $114 million for Hamels? Again, that’s a pretty reasonable contract, all things considered, but the acquisition cost is the issue.
The Phillies would almost certainly ask for a player like Addison Russell, and then some, for Hamels, at which point the question becomes: would the Cubs rather have Lester for a little more money, or Hamels for a little less money PLUS losing Russell?
That’s a fairly easy question to answer, which could mean the Phillies lower their asking price, or the Cubs try to get Lester first before falling back on Hamels as a possible back-up option (together, perhaps with James Shields or maybe Max Scherzer, though his price tag is going to be nutty).
In any case, however it plays out, Hamels is going to be a name to watch. We already expected that would be true, but with word that the Phillies definitely want to shop him, and word that they’ve recently scouted the Cubs, it becomes a little more real.
And here’s where you start dreaming crazy things, like the Cubs adding both Lester and Hamels this offseason. You’re crazy, man. Ahhhh … crazy …