The Chicago Cubs still figure to be in the market for starting pitching these next 12 days, even as their own starting pitching has been excellent. The back end of the rotation, as well as the depth behind it, remains a significant question mark, and the Cubs will explore a variety of options.
Is one of those options going to be Phillies ace Cole Hamels?
We know that the Cubs had interest in Hamels dating back to last August when they claimed him on waivers (but did not ultimately consummate a trade). We also believe that there were some trade discussions between the clubs in the offseason, perhaps even after the Cubs signed Jon Lester to a $155 million contract.
Given that the Cubs subsequently made an unsuccessful run at James Shields, does that mean they could still be in the market for a front-end starter with a significant contract like Hamels? Or are the Cubs exclusively looking at middle-to-back-end rental types?
Well, Ken Rosenthal reports that the Cubs, together with the Dodgers, “continue to talk to the Phillies about Cole Hamels.” Although Rosenthal does not get into specifics, he mentions that the Rangers and Red Sox (and “others”) could also still be involved with the Phillies regarding Hamels. The Cubs and Dodgers, though, were clearly at the fore of whatever Rosenthal was hearing.
Given that the Cubs’ front office is probably open to exploring just about anything, and given that the Phillies almost certainly would prefer to move Hamels sooner rather than later, it shouldn’t be surprising to hear the Cubs connected to Hamels. Being one of the first two teams mentioned, however, is a mild surprise. The Dodgers, for their part, make as much sense for Hamels as any team, with a deep prospect pool, virtually unlimited resources, and a strong need for starting pitching both now and heading into next year.
Of course, the front office turnover occurring in Philadelphia – Andy MacPhail was recently brought in to lead the baseball operations department, but that role won’t full kick in for a little while – could be slowing things down. As we saw back in the days of Jim Hendry’s lame duck tenure, outgoing front offices can be wary of making moves for the long-term when they won’t, themselves, be there to be reap what they sew.
Rosenthal’s report squares with something Buster Olney tweeted yesterday, albeit without any specific teams:
PHI is working through trade discussions with multiple teams re: Hamels, and some execs believe they're pushing to finish a Papelbon deal.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 18, 2015
With a suddenly burgeoning market of starters available for trade, and with an abundant free agent class after this season, the clock is ticking on the Phillies’ ability to get a premium return for the 31-year-old lefty. That’s especially true if the Padres are serious about trying to move James Shields right now, because he would present another “under control for a few years, solid veteran” alternative for teams able to take on salary.
From where I sit, Hamels remains an attractive but imperfect fit for the Cubs unless the Phillies are willing to eat substantial salary to make a deal work. Although the Cubs probably do have the financial wherewithal to make Hamels’ deal fit, and although the Cubs will want to add another quality starter after this season anyway, Hamels’ current deal isn’t that far under market. If the Phillies want to net a quality prospect package, then, they’ll have to make the contract look even more desirable. Otherwise, a team like the Cubs could be better off parting with far less in prospects for a rental this year, and then exploring the extremely robust free agent market after this season.
In other words, my sense is that the Cubs would be opportunistic with respect to the Phillies and Hamels: if the market doesn’t develop like they’re hoping, if they feel pressured to move him now before the huge free agent class post-2015, and if there aren’t a large number of suitors looking to take on his contract (and to whom he would approve a trade), maybe the Cubs pounce on a great deal.
But it’s all a balance: what is the prospect cost versus what is the value of Hamels’ contract versus how much will the Phillies eat versus how good is Hamels compared to the most realistic free agent options versus how much will those options cost versus how likely are they to sign with the Cubs ….
This stuff ain’t easy, my friends. But it’s fun for us to follow.