Last week, Philadelphia Phillies interim CEO Pat Gillick surprised many by conceding something obvious, but something that most didn’t think the Phillies would ever concede: they need to rebuild a little. And if you think it was just an off-hand comment by someone who won’t be implementing any kind of plan, GM Ruben Amaro was singing the same song.
“We’ve been talking about a lot of things internally,” Amaro told Phillies.com. “Through the process we’ve been discussing internally a lot about the best ways to proceed, and it’s pretty clear that we have had a shift. I know we have to do some things differently, which is certainly the plan. It’s clear that it may take some time. How long it will take, who knows? Pat kind of speculated when he said those numbers. They’re not etched in stone. But we’ve got some regrouping, rebuilding – whatever you want to call it. There’s things that we have to do that are different.”
We’ll see how this actually plays out, but if the Phillies do go for a wholesale, multi-year rebuild, they’ve probably got the Cubs to thank for showing that it can be done in a major market without entirely losing the fan base. But, boy, you’ve got to do it right, not only in the moves, but also in the messaging. This is absolutely what the Phillies need to do, but it’s going to be a difficult process, especially given a relative lack of marketable talent on the big league roster.
To that end, it is now exceedingly difficult to believe the Phillies will go through the offseason – or, at the latest, the 2015 Trade Deadline – without trading Cole Hamels. Next offseason’s pitching market projects to be even stronger than the current crop, and, moreover, Hamels will be a year older (and, if the Phillies wait, that’s another year to risk injury and/or ineffectiveness). If they’re really committed to rebuilding, and doing it as quickly as possible, they’ve got to move Hamels now.
The interesting thing will be how they approach a Hamels trade. Given their large market standing, you’ve got to believe they’ll try to eat a ton of salary to maximize the return. For a team like the Cubs, having the Phillies eat salary wouldn’t be a primary objective in trade, but if that’s the only way the Phillies will play ball, it’s not like having Hamels on an undermarket deal is an unattractive proposition. The trick will be quantifying – in dollars – the value of the prospects the Cubs would be willing to deal. Given that they know their own prospects better than anyone else, I like their chances of putting together a good deal.
That’s if the Phillies shop Hamels and if the Cubs go after him, of course. There’s a bountiful free agent crop from which the Cubs can shop, and maybe that’ll prove the preference.
As for Hamels, there is one wrinkle to deal with in trade: his no-trade rights. Hamels, by contract, can name 20 teams each offseason to which he cannot be traded without his permission. Jon Heyman reports that Hamels’ updated list – which previously included the Cubs – is due November 1. The Cubs will absolutely once again be placed on Hamels’ no-trade list, not because he necessarily has an aversion to going to the Cubs, but because he’ll want to have a little leverage if the Phillies and Cubs do come together on a deal. It’s just being smart.
To that end, then, I think we should go ahead and assume that, for the purposes of any trade with the Cubs, Hamels’ remaining contract is not four years and $96 million, as everyone keeps saying. It’s going to be five years and $114 million, which is the maximum he can get under his current contract if a vesting option kicks in. To approve a trade, you’ve got to assume Hamels will want his new team to guarantee that option. Thus, it’s best to just think about his current deal as five years and $114 million. Still very attractive in the current market, but relatively close to what you’d expect a guy like Jon Lester to get, especially on an AAV basis.
Heyman, for his part, mentions the Cubs and Red Sox as possible Hamels suitors this offseason. The price, Heyman says, will be “very steep.”
Buster Olney also writes that the Cubs and Red Sox make the most sense for a Hamels trade, given the need, the money, and the availability of prospects to trade. If a trade could be made without tapping in the Cubs’ very top tier of prospects, then I think you have to seriously consider going after Hamels (and the full contract) as the best option this offseason. If, however, the Phillies hold the line at the Cubs including someone like Addison Russell or Javier Baez, then I’m not sure a deal will ever make sense unless the Phillies are eating an absurd amount of Hamels’ salary.
The short version on that: elite positional prospects are worth tens of millions in value, whereas Hamels’ current deal offers no real surplus value. Thus, the Phillies would have to eat an amount of Hamels’ contract equal to the projected value of the prospect(s) they are acquiring. There’s a level at which it’s worth doing, but it’s a huge amount of money (and I’d argue that, because the Cubs project to have plenty of payroll flexibility going forward, they’d probably rather roll the dice on impact prospect upside than place a hard value on it in a trade like this).