On Trading Cole Hamels, Part 1

When the Phillies bought out Cole Hamels‘ final arbitration year this January, I did the writeup, titling the post with an allusion to this being Hamels’ last go-around in Philadelphia. I did that not so much out of an expectation that Hamels would, in fact, leave the team this offseason, but from a place of frustration and anger. I was frustrated that the Phillies had failed to make sure that their best homegrown pitcher since Robin Roberts would stay with the team as long as Roberts did, and I was angry that they seemed to fail to grasp the urgency of such a predicament. In truth, I had no idea what was going to happen to Hamels long-term.

But since the news leaked yesterday that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was floating trial balloons on a potential Hamels trade, the tenor of the conversation has changed. Now, Hamels’ departure is no longer a thought exercise, but a very real possibility. Since then, Ruben Amaro has flatly denied shopping Hamels. So with about four weeks to go until the trade deadline, and the Phillies closer to last place in the National League than they are to a playoff spot, let’s talk briefly about what this means.

  • I can see the pros and cons to both signing Hamels or not signing Hamels at this point. I don’t know that either one or the other is necessarily the right decision. However, given the changes to draft pick compensation rules since last season, if the Phillies don’t think they’re either 1) in the playoff race in 2012 or 2) in a good position to re-sign Hamels this offseason, they should trade him.
  • I’m assuming Amaro lied when he said the Phillies weren’t shopping Hamels. I disagree with a lot of things Buster Olney and Jon Heyman say about player evaluation and their normative stances on the game, but I consider both to be trustworthy breaking news reporters, even where unnamed sources are involved. I’d trust them over Amaro.
  • There is absolutely nothing wrong with putting Hamels on the block. In fact, considering how far out of first place the Phillies are, it would be foolish not to. There’s no harm whatsoever in feeling out the market.
  • The closest thing to Hamels that has hit the trade market in the past few years is CC Sabathia in 2008. Milwaukee gave Cleveland four prospects in that trade, only two of which (Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley) have spent significant time in the majors for Cleveland. Brantley is an average center fielder, more or less, and LaPorta has been pretty much an unmitigated disaster as a 1B/DH. At the time of the trade, the only prospect in the trade who had been in Baseball America’s Top 100 was LaPorta.
  • Scuttlebutt is that the Phillies want to hang on to Hamels at least until Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard come back later this month. Seems reasonable–it would be foolish to give up on the season with two pieces as important as Howard and Halladay return to the lineup.
  • There is a counterargument–At this point, a trade partner would be paying for about 15 regular season starts’ worth of Hamels, give or take, plus as many as five postseason starts. Wait until the deadline and Hamels might only make 10 starts–if you’re cutting off as much as a third of Hamels’ remaining regular-season value, you might expect the trade return to drop accordingly. In 2008, the Brewers acquired Sabathia on July 7. In 2004, the Astros traded for Carlos Beltran on June 24. A potential trade partner, particularly one trying to break into the playoffs for the first time in several years, might pay more to get Hamels earlier. If such a trade doesn’t materialize, however, the Phillies are right where they would have been if they’d waited until the deadline to trade Hamels. There’s little to lose.
  • Now for the bad news. The rules have changed since the Sabathia trade. The new CBA has eliminated draft pick compensation for free agents who were acquired in the final year of their contracts. Going back to the Sabathia trade, the Brewers traded four prospects for 17 starts’ worth of Sabathia, plus a sandwich-round pick and a second-round pick when the Yankees signed Sabathia as a free agent. The second-rounder, by the way, would have been a first-rounder if the Yankees hadn’t signed Mark Teixeira that same offseason. It is said that the loss of those picks (essentially, two first-rounders) will dramatically decrease the value of rental players in the trade market. For instance, the Giants traded for Carlos Beltran last year, despite a stipulation in his contract that forbade the Giants from offering him arbitration and netting those two draft picks. They sent the Mets only one prospect, pitcher Zack Wheeler, No. 27 on Keith Law’s Top 100 list going into this season, and even that was viewed at the time as a massive overpay by San Francisco. Not having those two picks as insurance for not re-signing Hamels might kick down the trade price quite a bit.
  • How much? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else, which is a point that I cannot stress enough. As unpredictable as the trade deadline market usually is, it’s doubly so now that we’re operating under a completely new set of rules without any historical precedent. But those picks matter–with the pick the Angels got when the Yankees signed Teixeira, they drafted Mike Trout.
  • Finally, it’s way too early to tell if anything at all is going to happen with Hamels, much less what. So before you go and start making up fake trades in your head, remember that no one has any idea what Cole Hamels is worth on the trade market right now. I know it’s hard, but try to be patient. All things will be revealed in time.

On a personal, self-aggrandizing note, I’ll be going on actual broadcast radio late this evening (12:40 a.m. EDT) to talk about this very topic with Spike Eskin of 94.1 WIP. If you’re in greater Philadelphia, tune in to 94.1 FM, and if you’re on the West Coast or in Europe (where you’re far more likely to be awake), you can stream the segment online here.

Watching the Game: Cliff Lee

With a loss yesterday afternoon at the hands of the struggling Miami Marlins, the Phillies dropped to 36-45, 10.5 games out in last place in the NL East. With a 9-19 June and a loss to start July, the season is all but over for the Phillies. It would require divine intervention to make the playoffs at this point: to reach an assumed 88-win threshold for the new second Wild Card, the Phillies would have to win 64% of their remaining 81 games — the pace of a 104-win team over a 162-game season. It’s been this kind of season:

The frustration of this season overall, combined with the unexpected under-performance of several key players, has resulted in some unfair lashing-out by Phillies fans. Cliff Lee has been one such target, but more so than anyone else, it seems that the criticism directed at him is most unwarranted. Looking at the factors most in his control — strikeouts and walks — Lee has been doing his job nearly as well as he did last year. When you look at things he has little or no control over — RISP, W-L, ERA — he doesn’t look so hot.

Philly fans have a tendency to blame the better players for a disappointing team performance, as Donovan McNabb can verify. Coupled with the proneness to error simply by being human, we have an ever-growing myth on our hands. With the perception that Lee is irreparable, fans start magnifying every little mistake and assigning more blame to Lee than is warranted. I saw no acknowledgement of any outside factors on Lee’s results on Sunday, so I want to illustrate that by going through Lee’s last start against the Marlins in which he lasted four and two-thirds innings, on the hook for six runs on ten hits.

Lee allowed one run in the first, two in the third, and three in the fifth, so I will focus on those innings. Lots of .gifs after the jump. Continue reading…