If for no other reason than to remind folks that the runaway train of speculation about the Chicago Cubs going hog wild in the free agent market is not the only way they can improve this offseason, here’s a small note on Phillies ace Cole Hamels and the Cubs’ interest therein.
Jon Heyman reports that, in addition to exploring the top free agent arms on the market, the Cubs “expect to talk to the Phillies” about Hamels.
That’s not much a surprise, given the Cubs’ waiver claim of Hamels back in August and subsequent reports out of Philadelphia that the now rebuilding-ish Phillies will be shopping Hamels. We know that Hamels has been reworking his no-trade list, which will certainly include the Cubs, if for no other reason than it will allow him the leverage to require the Cubs – if they were to trade for him – to pick up his option year, making his current contract five years and $114 million.
Although many have tried to couch Hamels as a kind of back-up option for the teams that miss out on the top arms in free agency, that kind of approach never really made sense to me. For one thing, it treats all of the pitchers as inherently equal, in terms of ability and projection into their 30s. That’s probably not accurate. For another thing, once those free agent arms are off of the market, the Phillies’ bargaining position only grows stronger.
A savvy team, interested in a top arm this offseason, will approach possibilities like Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, James Shields, and Hamels all in a coordinated fashion so as to reach the best odds of (1) getting the preferred target (2) at the best possible price.
From Heyman’s report, it sounds like that’s already the kind of approach the Cubs are setting up. We’ll see if the Phillies’ price tag on Hamels in trade merits serious consideration – his deal is probably more attractive than the ones the other three will get in free agency, but not substantially so – because it’s hard to imagine the Cubs parting with one of their elite prospects at this time. And, frankly, it’s hard to see the Phillies not holding out for an elite return on their one, most valuable trade chip. Perhaps that means some playing with the financial commitment involved? Certainly having Hamels on a deal where the Cubs are paying him just, say, $15 to $18 million per year for the next five years is a hugely valuable thing, and opens up a world of realistic possibilities for other financial commitments. You can’t do that with Scherzer or Lester or Shields – they’re going to get whatever contract they’re going to get.
Just something to think about, given the Cubs’ prospect currency.