For months now, it’s looked far more likely that Phillies ace Cole Hamels would open the season with his current team than a new one. Indeed, dating all the way back to last year’s Trade Deadline, through the waiver period (when Hamels was claimed by the Cubs), and then through the early part of the offseason, the one consistent narrative we’ve heard is that the Phillies are demanding a huge return for Hamels, won’t eat any salary, and teams aren’t willing to come to that level.
You’d think that would be enough time to accept the reality of the market – and the reality of your rebuilding situation – and make the best deal possible, rather than holding out for the dead-bang winner deal. But not so for the Phillies. Not yet, anyway.
So, entering the season with Hamels seems likely, with a dice roll on his health and increased demand at the 2015 Trade Deadline. The Phillies are playing with fire on that approach, of course, as the post-2015 free agent class looms with historically good levels of pitching, much of which might be available via trade in July, depending on how the season shakes out. They’re also setting themselves up for a particularly awkward Spring Training writes Ken Rosenthal, as we’ve seen with the Cubs in recent years.
Still, it’s possible the Phillies could make a trade in the coming weeks. With James Shields now signed and in San Diego – a team that was pursuing Hamels – it’s possible any external hold-ups in a Hamels trade are now out of the way.
Recently, GM Ruben Amaro said he thought it was likely Hamels would break camp with the Phillies, but acknowledged that there were still talks going on. Amaro offered even more to CSN’s Jim Salisbury yesterday, saying that, over the course of the offseason, eight teams had “kicked the tires” on Hamels, and four had made “real offers.”
Maybe the Phillies change course, and try to get a deal done before the season starts, then.
While we can’t know for sure that the Cubs were out on Hamels after signing Jon Lester (after all, the Cubs did just pursue James Shields), there haven’t been strong signals of their interest in a while. I suspect the Cubs are at least one of the eight tire-kicking teams, even if they’re not one of the four that has made a “real offer” recently. Salisbury mentions the Cubs, together with the Padres, Dodgers, Red Sox, Rangers, and Cardinals as teams that have had interest at some point. We’ve also heard about the Cardinals having interest in recent weeks.
Hamels, who cannot block a trade to the Cubs, is 31 and is owed at least $96 million over the next four years (or $110 million over five years, if an option is exercised). In this market, it’s a very good contract, and it offers a team like the Cubs the nice bonus of being relatively short-term – covering a period when the salaries of their offensive core are at their lowest. If the Cubs wanted Shields at three years and $60 million (plus a team option), I think it’s plausible that they’d still want Hamels on his deal.
The problem, of course, is the acquisition cost. Although the Cubs are as well-positioned as any team in baseball to afford the price of any player in trade, that, alone, is not a reason to pay an unreasonable price. Sure, Hamels’ deal is probably better than most of the deals that will be signed by top starters next offseason, but those guys cost only money (and maybe a draft pick, in some cases). And there are going to be a ton of them next year. It’s very hard to justify, then, giving up an elite, big-league-ready prospect (and a bunch more, probably) to get Hamels right now.
The Cubs are not going to deal a Kris Bryant or an Addison Russell just to get Hamels. And, from the Phillies’ perspective, maybe that means the Cubs simply don’t get Hamels. It’s not like the Cubs won’t have other options, and maybe their best course is to head into the season and re-evaluate their needs/opportunities come June and July. Maybe that will involve Hamels, and maybe then the Phillies will be in a more realistic dealing position. Or maybe the Cubs will have found by then that Travis Wood bounced back. Or Edwin Jackson turned things around in a significant way. Or Jacob Turner broke out. Or Felix Doubront broke out. Or Tsuyoshi Wada emerged. Etc. As I’ve said before, the Cubs’ fifth starter competition remains one of the more interesting storylines going forward, and it’s not like the Cubs don’t have a ton of options that could plausibly be quite good (even if not Hamels-level, obviously).
This situation remains something to monitor, but I’d say it’s more interesting from a general baseball perspective – and a market impact perspective – than from a Cubs-specific perspective.