In advance of the Trade Deadline this past season, one thing was crystal clear: the Philadelphia Phillies weren’t winning anything in 2014 and probably not in 2015, either, and would be best served selling off their assets for value at that time. Without too many quality assets to sell, though, the Phillies considered offers for ace lefty Cole Hamels, whose contract was essentially market rate, but who could provide a ton of surplus value to a team in a race at that moment. So far, so good.
But then the Phillies arguably screwed the pooch by demanding three top prospects from one of the most viable trade partners, the Dodgers. Specifically, the Phillies reportedly asked for three top 30 prospects in the game in Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, and Julio Urias. As FanGraphs wrote at the time, the request was unfathomably ridiculous, given Hamels’ contract. At most, one such elite prospect may have been worth including in a deal for Hamels, and even that was a valuation stretch.
Unsurprisingly, the Dodgers passed, and Hamels went untraded.
Fast forward to today (we’re skipping past the part where the Cubs claimed Hamels on waivers in August and couldn’t consummate a trade because of the vagaries of a non-competitive team trying to land a big piece in August … it just doesn’t fly), and the Phillies are open to rebuilding, and are expected to shop Hamels, with the Cubs again interested.
This time, the Phillies have gotten more realistic about their demands, right? Rebuilders trying to sell 30+ year-old players with huge contracts can’t be choosers, right?
Well, CSN’s Jim Salisbury reports: “Industry sources say the Phils are looking for at least three top prospects, two that can play right now and another that isn’t far away.” Obviously “top” is an ambiguous term, but, given the prior reports, it’s likely that “top” means “top in baseball.”
Which means, if the Phillies stick to that, they’re going to find themselves with a really expensive luxury ace in a non-competitive 2015 season.
I’ve got no beef with the Phillies shooting high on Hamels, but you’ve got to at least have a semblance of self-awareness. Because Hamels has a limited no-trade clause that will almost certainly allow him to block deals to the teams that would look to acquire him (Cubs, Red Sox, for examples), he’s likely to demand that his 2019 option be picked up to approve a deal. So you’ve got to throw out any comments you hear about his four-year, $96 million deal looking really attractive on this market, because that’s not the deal a trading team is going to get. Instead, they’re going to get a five-year, $114 million deal – which is barely less than what comparable pitchers in free agency this year are going to receive.
For the Cubs, that’s simply not going to be worth one elite prospect (Addison Russell, for example), let alone three top prospects. If the Phillies want to pick up an elite prospect, or several good ones, in return, they’re going to have to eat a ton of salary in the deal to make it happen. And, as far as the Cubs go, I’m not sure they’re going to want to use their prospect advantage right now to save money on a 31-year-old pitcher. Don’t get me wrong: there are reasons for even the spendiest of teams to want a guy like Hamels for, say, $15 million per year. That has some huge value. But, given the prevalence of other pitching options, and given the Cubs’ ability to accommodate their top positional prospects, I’m not sure there’s going to be a fit here unless the Phillies’ demands fall substantially (even if they’re willing to eat salary).
This may prove to be a situation where Hamels is not traded this offseason, the Cubs (and Red Sox) get a pitcher or two in free agency, and everyone checks back in come June/July.