Suddenly, the Phillies seem interested in selling. The July 31st non-waiver trade deadline came and went with Philadelphia making nary a move. For an old team heading in the wrong direction, one would have thought they’d have been more active last month. But here we stand in August, with the Philadelphia squad largely the same as it was two weeks ago.
So, now comes a report that the Phillies are aggressively scouting the Red Sox’s farm system. So much so that Boston Globe columnist Nick Cafardo says, “Don’t think in 30 years of covering baseball I’ve ever seen a team (the Phillies) spend so much time scouting another team (the Red Sox) and not pull the trigger on a deal.”
Does that mean a trade is a foregone conclusion?
Maybe. As stubborn as Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro has proven to be in sticking with his veterans, the time may have finally come that he’s realized he needs to do something. He sent Roberto Hernandez to the Dodgers in an August deal, and at least entertained trade discussions with the Cubs for Hamels after Chicago claimed him on waivers.
But, based on Cafardo’s report, Amaro may be eyeing Red Sox youngsters in exchange for the Philadelphia ace. So the ball would seemingly be in Boston General Manager Ben Cherington’s court on whether to make a deal. As tempting as it may be, Cherington should tread carefully.
The Red Sox are not in an unenviable position. While they surely were hoping to follow up their World Series title with a more successful season than it’s turned into, they are not in bad shape heading into 2015. As it stands now, the offense is better than it was just two weeks ago, many highly-regarded prospects are about ready for their shot in Boston, and they have money to spend for the future.
But the biggest question mark is in the rotation. Cherington traded off the team’s top four starters from the beginning of the season, leaving them with the ghost of Clay Buchholz and several unproven arms. The last two months of a season such as this are the perfect opportunity for the likes of Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, and Anthony Ranaudo to cut their teeth.
However, a rotation like that won’t realistically be good enough to give Boston a chance for the playoffs next year. So Cherington has his work cut out for him in the offseason. At the top of his list will be acquiring an ace. With Jon Lester now in Oakland, and even John Lackey in St. Louis, there is no one to lead the pitching staff. Hamels could be that guy.
He is enjoying his best season in the Majors. Though he is only 6-6, which has more to do with the state of the Phillies in general, he has a career-best 2.37 ERA, while his .225 BAA and 8.98 K/9 are both nearly career highs. Hamels is also durable, going more than 183 innings every season in the Majors, topping 200 in five of the last six years. He’s also proven he can deliver in the postseason, winning an NLCS and World Series MVP award.
But, as greatly as he would fit in Boston, and as much as the Red Sox have a need for him, this is a deal that shouldn’t happen. Top-end pitching is not as rare as it has been anymore. 20 pitchers currently have a below-3.00 ERA, which is the most this century. 24 more have an ERA below 3.50. Quality starting pitchers is no longer as elusive at the Loch Ness Monster.
For that reason, the cost of acquiring Hamels should also be a deterrent. According to Cafardo, it is going to take four or five prospects to pry Hamels away from the Phillies. And, as recently evidenced, Amaro will be asking for top-level players in return. Is Cherington prepared to sell on players like Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, Jr., or any of the other prospects populating the Boston system for him?
By no means should those players be untouchable. In the right deal anyone should be made available. But those are chips that can only be cashed in once. If Cherington does trade those players, it would make more sense to send a big package to Miami for Giancarlo Stanton. Pure sluggers are getting more and more valuable as total offense continues to slip around the league. It is possible that the Red Sox could make multiple blockbuster trades, but that would take a serious chunk out of a farm system the organization has spent years building.
A big draw for the Red Sox on Hamels is his contract. He is owed $90 million over the next four years, plus a $20 million option year. That fits into the team’s philosophy of not giving out long-term deals to pitchers in their 30’s. While it has generally worked in their favor, they could potentially give a contract in the range of six-years and $150 million contract to Lester, which would cost them nothing other than money. Max Scherzer is another option, but that will require even more money. Still, either would give them the number one they need and still allow them to hang on to their prospects for a bigger trading prize. And, even if a contract like that turns into a bit of an overpayment on the back end, it’s not something that would cripple a franchise like Boston’s.
The idea of Cole Hamels ending up in Boston is great in theory. He would help the team make a huge step toward getting back to becoming a contender. But it’s the cost that should be the hold up. Does giving two extra years and $50 million for a 30-year-old free agent really outweigh giving up four or five prospects for a similarly-aged starter? It’s a question Cherington and Red Sox ownership should really spend some time answering.