By: Jack Boulia
With Jon Lester fresh off the market and Max Scherzer expected to cost a fortune, teams that were in on Lester are turning to alternatives on the free agent market as well as the trade market. Some of the options include Max Scherzer and his $200 million+ pipe dream, James Shields, Jordan Zimmerman, and then the oft-mentioned Cole Hamels. Much of the trade market consists of one-year rentals, but what makes Cole Hamels special is he is a great pitcher being paid like a great pitcher for the next few years.
Which isn’t that special.
Cole Hamels has four years and $96 million remaining on his contract. It’s market value for a pitcher like Hamels. So doesn’t it make sense trading for him is trading for a justifiably priced player?
For the Phillies, clearing $96 million could definitely help put the franchise on the right track, but as long as Ruben Amaro Jr. is in office, we know this is probably overly-optimistic. Anyway. Clearing $96 million for a player that they don’t need is actually very valuable. The Phillies are not going to be competitive for another five to seven years (in my estimate), and Cole Hamels certainly falls outside that window. Even if they kept him and his $19 million option vests, a 2015 Cole Hamels is not going to be the same player as a 2019 Cole Hamels. The point I’m trying to make is even if the Phillies accidentally become competitive and Hamels’ option vests, Hamels might only be a 1.3 fWAR player (accounting for a 0.5 fWAR decline per year) in 2019 and would likely be in the rotation as a mediocre fifth starter. So, in essence, keeping Hamels holds no value to the Phillies, but trading his contract holds a lot.
Which brings me to my next point. Because teams can sign players at market value without giving up players, if the Phillies trade the entirety of Hamels’ contract to a team, they will get very, very little in return, but, like the paragraph above states, that holds a lot of value for the Phillies. The Phillies need to anticipate a minuscule return if they trade all of Hamels’ contract. The return the Phillies would get would be more of a courtesy return. There are a couple different scenarios where the Phillies could get a decent haul of talent back; if they were to eat $20-30 million of his contract, I could see a return of Henry Owens and Devin Marrero of the Red Sox. I decided on these players because if they were to hit the free agent market right now, the combination of the two would probably cost somewhere in the $20-30 million range. However, if the Phillies eat $60+ million, I think that’s when you’ll see Mookie Betts/Xander Bogaerts offered, or maybe Javier Baez of the Cubs. Very rough guestimates, but you see the point; the more the Phillies eat, the more they get in return. It makes sense. If the Phillies ate ALL of the contract, well, you would have to trade an elite prospect for Hamels. But is Hamels really worth an elite prospect?
Hamels is a few days from being thirty-one years old, meaning his best days are behind him. I would really start to notice a significant decline after the second year of the contract meaning the third, fourth, and potentially fifth years are almost dead weight for any team that acquires his contract. But Hamels is no longer on the incline. He’d be more valuable to an American League team since the American League is more offensively-weighted, but probably less successful which might actually negate any increased value from the switch of leagues. So the Phillies could eat a lot of money but still not get a lot back because half or more of Hamels’ contract is a sunken cost.
Keep in mind this post is not bashing Hamels; Hamels is really a great pitcher and would instantly make any team better. It’s his trade value. His name has a lot of star-power…however star-power has not been shining as brightly in the trade market. The returns for players like David Price, Josh Donaldson, and Justin Upton a couple years back are three examples off the top of my head where the general consensus is that the team that bought the star-player “won”. The returns of these players stunned most people at how light they are. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs wrote an excellent article (http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-perception-and-the-market-of-star-player-trade-value/#more-169960) about the value of “star-power”. To paraphrase, we expect elite players to draw elite returns, however that has not been the case in recent years. With the exception of the Jeff Samardzija deal to the A’s, I can’t really remember a team overpaying. So the rough “guestimates” from above, probably don’t even come close to a Hamels deal. I would expect a B-prospect to go along with an organization’s #15-20 prospect and maybe a lottery ticket. A pretty light return, even if the Phillies ate most or all of the contract.
Remember when the Phillies demanded Julio Urias, Joc Pederson, and Corey Seager from the Dodgers in addition to taking on Hamels’ entire contract? I do. Even if the Phillies ate all of the contract, they might, might, get one of these players. Simply put, Hamels has no trade value. The Philies need to unload his contract now because Hamels is becoming less valuable every second and it will make a light return even lighter. Now let’s sit back and watch Ruben Amaro Jr. work his, er, “magic”.