In a relatively striking turn for a major market team executive, Pat Gillick, the interim CEO and senior advisor for the Philadelphia Phillies, admitted in an interview with CSN that the Phillies won’t realistically be competitive again until 2017 or 2018.
That’s incredibly interesting from a pure baseball perspective, but it has a significant bearing on the market, too. If the Phillies proceed now as a team that doesn’t view itself as a likely contender in 2015 and 2016 – absolutely the right approach with their aging, expensive roster, by the way – not only will they not be in on the top tier of free agents this and maybe next offseason*, but they may also look to trade aggressively from their current roster.
*(The exception there could be 23-year-old Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, to whom the Phillies have repeatedly been connected. Even with a two-year rebuild underway, Tomas would still make sense for the Phillies.)
We know some of the guys the Phillies will be shopping either way, and it’s not a particularly sexy crop. There’s Marlon Byrd and Ryan Howard and Jonathan Papelbon, only one of which (Byrd) might actually net a prospect. Maybe they move Cliff Lee, eating some salary, and get a decent return.
If the Phillies really want to rebuild over the next two years, however, they’re simply going to have to deal ace Cole Hamels this offseason. Not only is he valuable as a trade asset, but he’s also on a pricey contract, and headed into his decline years. If the Phillies don’t compete in 2015 and 2016 and hang on to Hamels, they would be squandering the bulk of his value.
We’ve discussed the possibility that the Cubs could go after Hamels many times over since they claimed him on waivers back in August, but did not consummate a trade. And, already this offseason, there have been rumors connecting the Cubs to Hamels.
The question with Hamels is not his attractiveness as a top-of-the-rotation option. He’s right up there with the Cubs’ presumed top target, Jon Lester. Instead, the question is whether the price to acquire Hamels makes him a less attractive target, when considering his contract, than just going all out on the free agent class. Hamels is due $96 million over the next four years (or $110 to $114 million (because of varying options) over the next five years). He’s got no-trade rights that, when the time comes, are likely to involve him being able to block a deal to the Cubs, so lets assume that to complete a trade, the priciest option would have to be picked up.
The Phillies reportedly previously asked for Addison Russell (plus more) for Hamels, which simply feels too steep when there are equally-attractive free agent options out there. Some would say that means the Cubs should simply go after their preferred free agent target(s) and only come to the Phillies as a fall-back option.
But where’s the leverage in that?
Instead, the Cubs will have to deftly manage two angles at once, and determine which route provides them the most value at the least cost – not an easy task when you’re stacking up prospect value against actual dollars. If the Cubs wait until all of the free agent options are gone, however, the Phillies can then squeeze. All I’m saying: it isn’t as simple as saying “go for the free agents, and then maybe pursue Hamels.” It all has to be considered in concert.
Maybe Russell will always be too steep of a price, even if the Phillies eat some salary. I’m inclined to think that way. But the Cubs have an extremely deep pool of prospects behind Russell, one of the important currencies of baseball. Maybe a Phillies rebuild will present the right opportunity to cash in some of that currency. Maybe not.
Hopefully the Phillies really do go the rebuild route and shop Hamels this offseason, though, if for no other reason than it provides options.
(Gillick’s remarks probably struck manager Ryne Sandberg as tough noogies, by the way. “You know that horrible roster we gave you last year, in your first season and probably only shot to make it as a big league manager? Well, it ain’t getting better for the next couple years. So … good luck!”)