Now that starting pitcher Jon Lester has signed with the Chicago Cubs for a reported $155 million over six years, much of Major League Baseball’s attention will turn to the Philadelphia Phillies and what they do with ace Cole Hamels.
Lester was the most coveted free agent on the market this winter, with teams like the rebuilding Boston Red Sox, the wheeling and dealing Los Angeles Dodgers and defending champion San Francisco Giants all formerly in pursuit. Now some of those clubs could instead make a trade to acquire the Phillies best trade chip in Hamels. The 30-year-old went 9-9 with a 2.46 ERA over 204 2 /3 innings for a 73-89 Philadelphia squad that finished last in the NL East.
That the Phillies are willing to part with Hamels seems like an obvious assumption, given their needs across the board, especially at the plate, where they finished 23rd in runs scored and 24th in team batting average last season.
But new manager Ryne Sandberg claims that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. won’t deal Hamels unless they get a significant haul back.
"There's no way that Ruben's going to just give away a player," Sandberg said according to Yahoo! Sports. "I mean, we'd have to be wowed to give up a guy like Cole Hamels, which would be a wow that would help us with the process and go in the direction that we want to go."
Any team hoping to land Hamels will have to assume all, if not most, of the four years and $96 million remaining on his contract. Philadelphia has recently shown a willingness to pay some of a player’s remaining salary in order to consummate a trade. According to CSNPhilly, the Phillies would pay a “significant portion” of the $60 million still owed to aging slugger Ryan Howard to get a deal done.
However, for a player in his prime and of a stature like Hamels, the Phillies will likely ask for several top prospects, or players who can contribute immediately in 2015. And they needn't worry about teams paying his contract. WEEI.com’s Alex Spier confirmed as much via Twitter Tuesday.
Sandberg says Phillies would want pieces for Hamels who could help starting in the coming year.
â€” Alex Speier (@alexspeier) December 9, 2014
The Dodgers could fit that bill with an offer of second baseman Dee Gordon and center-field prospect Joc Pederson, according to ESPN Los Angeles. Philadelphia will be in need of a second baseman with veteran Chase Utley entering the final year of his contract, and Gordon’s a 26-year-old speedster with solid defensive skills and a .272 career average. He also led the majors with 64 stolen bases last season.
Pederson was underwhelming in a brief call up last season, but he's shown flashes of serious potential. The 22-year-old appeared in 18 major league games last season and made 28 plate appearances, hitting .143, but at the Triple-A level he batted .303 with 33 home runs and 78 RBI in 121 games in 2014.
The Red Sox are also reportedly interested in Hamels, but the feelings don’t seem to be mutual. According New York Post columnist Joel Sherman, Hamels could use his no-trade clause to nix a move to Boston, citing his career 3-5 record and 5.40 ERA in American League ballparks. But Sherman did stress that Hamels might be open to a deal if any team offered him a contract extension or picked up his option for the 2019 season.
Boston does have several top prospects that could satisfy Philadelphia and Sandberg. Centerfielder Mookie Betts, catcher Christian Vasquez and even third baseman Xander Bogaerts are all coveted young players, and according to Philly.com Amaro is looking to land at least three prospects for Hamels.
CBS Sports also reported that landing Hamels was a back-up plan for the Giants, but they could also be in play for Ervin Santana, and Francisco Liriano. If remaining in the National League is a high priority for Hamels, San Francisco allows him to contend immediately for a title with southpaw ace Madison Bumgarner already headlining the rotation.