Nov 242011
Phillies ace Cole Hamels

Could the Phillies really trade Cole Hamels?

I am not advocating trading Cole Hamels.

To repeat, I am not advocating trading Cole Hamels. It would not be in the best interest of a team planning on winning the World Series in 2012 or 2013 or 2014 and so on. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are likely the best one-two punch at the top of a rotation in the league, but the Phillies are fortunate. Pitchers as good as those two and Hamels don’t come available often, and they need to hold onto their talent. It may be expensive, but he’s a top of the line pitcher in his prime. It would be extremely unlikely for any prospect in the Phillies system to have a career as good as Hamels, and there are very few around baseball that could.

However, over the past week, writers have speculated that the Phillies are exploring a Hamels trade. How serious are they? Another report stated that it would take “three small countries and two oceans” for the Phillies to do it, so it’s likely that Amaro is just doing his due diligence and seeing if anyone has a spare nation or two. However, it wouldn’t be the first time Ruben Amaro traded a lefty ace in his prime because he only had one year left on his contract. Hopefully he learned his lesson, but continuing to give free agents more years than necessary hints that he may be a slow learner.

On ESPN last week, Kevin Goldstein came up with eight Hamels trade scenarios with the help of a front office executive. While there are surely 29 other teams that would have to have Hamels on their roster, not many have the prospects, financial resources or competitive necessity to acqure him. Of these eight, some are weak candidates, so I ranked Goldstein’s proposals from what I thought were the best to the worst. Even the #1 deal may not be acceptable because homegrown players as good as Hamels don’t come around often.

Texas Rangers: LHP Martin Perez, 3B Mike Olt, C Jorge Alfaro, RHP Ramon Mendez

Texas has experienced a resurgence over the last couple years thanks to new ownership and a smart front office. They have one of the best farm systems in the game, and after losing Cliff Lee last offseason and facing the possibility of losing C.J. Wilson this offseason, they can’t afford to go into 2012 with Colby Lewis pitching Opening Day. Hamels has plenty of experience in the playoffs and a hitter friendly ballpark, and the Rangers have the budget to sign him to the kind of extension he’ll seek.

Looking at the stats, Martin Perez is hardly impressive. His career ERA is over 4.00, and his WHIP is just south of 1.50, yet he’s still a top 25 prospect in the league. Why? He was rushed through the system a little and reached AAA as a 20 year old. He skipped over high-A entirely because Texas’ affiliate used to be Bakersfield in the Cal League, widely considered to be the worst affiliate in minor league baseball. With an old stadium where the sun sets behind centerfield at the start of game time and no fan support in a great hitters league, any team partnered with Bakersfield tends to avoid sending top pitching prospects there. He has the potential for three plus pitches with a fastball in the 91-95 range, a changeup with nice movement and a curveball. He has a smooth delivery and should develop command and could be a #2 starter. Roman Mendez is another young arm not as far along as Perez. He can throw in the high 90’s with a sharp breaking ball, and although he hasn’t pitched above low-A yet, he could move quickly when moved to the bullpen, his likely destination in the majors.

Mike Olt is at the very least a top 100 prospect, and with his outstanding AFL campaign, could be in the top 50. He’ll provide very good defense at third with a plus arm, and he has the potential to hit 25 home runs per season. He strikes out a bit much and might not hit for a great average, but with a high OBP, power and defense, he can clearly be a quality third baseman, perhaps as soon as Opening Day in 2013. Jorge Alfaro is a potential All-Star behind the plate, but it won’t be for a while. The 18 year old has only played half a season in the United States, but his tools are impressive. The most expensive player to ever sign from Colombia, Alfaro converted from infield to catcher thanks to his plus plus arm, and his skills behind the plate are improving. At the plate, he shows great power in batting practice and with Spokane in 2011, hit for a higher average than most expected. His plate approach makes Sebastian Valle appear to be as patient as Barry Bonds, but he’s still very young and can improve.

New York Yankees: LHP Manny Banuelos, RHP Hector Noesi, C Austin Romine, CF Mason Williams

After failing to sign Cliff Lee last offseason, failing to trade for him last season from Seattle and again in the prior offseason from the Phillies, they’re still looking for a second pitcher to go at the top of their rotation with C.C. Sabathia. With a weak free agent class headlined by C.J. Wilson and the possibility of Yu Darvish being posted, they could look to the trade market.

Banuelos may not be a top 25 prospect, but he’s still one of the game’s best left handed starter prospects. His arsenal is actually quite similar to Hamels’ with a 90-94 MPH fastball, a potential plus plus change and a solid curveball. Uncharacteristically, he struggled with his command in 2011 but still reached AAA as a 20 year old. He would likely be the Phillies’ top prospect. Noesi pitched 56.1 innings in the majors this year, mainly in a relief role. He has okay stuff, and his command, usually the best in their system, failed him and led to his 1.51 WHIP. He could be a back-end starter, but it has to be concerning that he’s missed fewer and fewer bats as he’s climbed the ladder.

Of the two position player prospects in the deal, Williams has the most potential as the Yankees’ highest paid pick of the 2010 draft. He was the best prospect in the New York Penn League last year, batting .349 with a .863 OPS. He had 28 steals in just 68 games, and with his athleticism and good arm, he’s very good in center field. He can hit to the opposite field and could develop the strength for 10-15 home runs. He might rank as the Phillies’ second best position player prospect. Austin Romine is a potential starting catcher, but his lack of improvement from 2010 to 2011 while being forced to repeat AA thanks to Jesus Montero in AAA could be a red flag. He’s an average hitter with average power that can hit to all fields, but a very aggressive approach at the plate undermines him. He’s athletic behind the plate, but despite a plus arm, struggles to throw out baserunners.

Boston Red Sox: 3B Will Middlebrooks, INF Jed Lowrie, LF Brandon Jacobs, LHP Felix Doubront

The Red Sox historic collapse was fueled by a lack of pitching. They didn’t have the organizational depth to overcome multiple injuries including Clay Buchholz in addition to Jon Lester and Josh Beckett’s September struggles. Their system has been depleted at upper levels over the last couple years, leaving them very few options to step in when necessary. They obviously have the money to re-sign Hamels, and that would make for an incredibly expensive rotation with Hamels, Beckett and Lester plus John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka sitting out with elbow injuries.

This deal features two current major leaguers which takes away some of its appeal. The Red Sox drafted Jed Lowrie in the first round expecting him to develop into their starting shortstop, but due to multiple injuries and inconsistent play, it seems like his ideal role will be as a utility player. That could still have value to the Phillies who could afford to give Chase Utley and Placido Polanco more days off to keep them fresh (or in the case of Polanco, replace him entirely.) However, Lowrie is already arbitration eligible, and that takes away from some of his value. Felix Doubront is out of options, but he only has 35.1 innings in the majors. Various minor injuries have held him back, but he could be a back-end starter if he stays healthy. He has an average fastball with sink, a solid curve and a changeup and cutter to get righties out.

The two big catches in the trade are the prospects. Middlebrooks should be major league ready by Opening Day 2013 when Polanco’s contract expires. He’s made steady improvement in his plate approach and swing and isn’t just a pull hitter. He has very good power and with his athleticism and strong arm, he profiles nicely at third base. Brandon Jacobs is a young outfielder that was committed to Auburn to play running back before signing with the Red Sox. He has a very high offensive ceiling with great power and the ability to hit for average, and he had a breakout season in the SAL this year with a .881 OPS as a 20 year old. He stole 30 bases, but that’s not expected to be a part of his game as he continues to grow. He’ll be a left fielder because he doesn’t have a good arm.

Colorado Rockies: LHP Drew Pomeranz, RHP Chad Bettis, CF Charlie Blackmon

Just four months after trading Ubaldo Jimenez, would the Rockies be in the market for a new ace? Perhaps they weren’t planning on a rebuild and just knew they had an opportunity to sell high on Jimenez. The division still isn’t strong and they should feel like they have a chance to win, but with a payroll that’s hovered between 80 and 85 million the last two seasons, signing Hamels to a pricey extension could prove difficult.

The Rockies originally got Pomeranz in the Jimenez trade, and as a top 25 prospect, he could pitch near the front of a major league rotation and soon. The big, durable former 5th overall pick has a great fastball and curveball combination that allows him to strike out a lot of batters. His changeup is improving, and his command improved enough for him to get a cup of coffee with the Rockies in September. Charlie Blackmon also made his ML debut in 2011 and profiles as a potential starter in center field. He’s athletic and has a good arm, but he needs to work on getting better jumps. His bat control allows him to hit for a good average and put the ball in play, but he’ll never be much of a power guy.

Chad Bettis doesn’t have the ideal size for a right handed pitcher, but he has a surprisingly smooth delivery that allows him to throw 92-94 MPH consistently without effort, and he even hit 100 as a starter with Modesto in 2011. His second best pitch is his slider, but he tends to rely on it too much and overthrows it. His competitiveness and stuff would make him a great reliever, but his developing changeup made him effective against lefties as well as righties, so he’s giving himself a chance to be a starter. He finished top five in the minors in strikeouts this year.

Chicago Cubs: CF Brett Jackson, RHP Andrew Cashner, 3B Junior Lake

The Cubs once again turn to a new front office and manager to try and end their World Series drought, and the front office additions have a track record of success. Eight years ago when they rode Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano to the NLCS, it seemed like they would be set with pitching for a while. Now, they’re left with Zambrano and his contract which can be best described is an albatross, Matt Garza and a farm system with little top pitching talent. They could definitely offer Hamels a sizable extension but may not have the trade chips.

Brett Jackson is the top prospect in the deal. He’s decent in center field with solid range and an average arm, but he won’t be a gold glove winner. With his athleticism and power, he could be a 20-20 player in the majors, and he might be major league ready right now. He strikes out quite a bit and might not be more than a .270 hitter, but he draws walks too. Andrew Cashner has a year of ML experience, but most of his 2011 season was wiped out with a rotator cuff injury. He has great stuff, but he’s been inconsistent and didn’t have a good AFL campaign coming off the injury. The Cubs tried him in the rotation briefly, but since he’s mainly a fastball/slider guy with his injury history, he’ll be a late inning reliever if he reaches his ceiling.

Junior Lake is a Phillies kind of prospect. He has great tools, but because of his size he’ll have to move off shortstop to third base where he could develop into a very good defender with soft hands and one of the strongest arms in the minors. He shows plus power in batting practice, but it hasn’t quite translated to games yet due to a wild swing. He can’t help but swing at most pitches, and his plate discipline hasn’t shown much improvement. He had a very good month in the AFL, but it remains to be seen if that will translate to the tougher competition he has to face in AA in 2012. If Anthony Hewitt had been able to stay in the infield, he would be somewhat similar to Lake.

Detroit Tigers: RHP Jacob Turner, LHP Casey Crosby, RF Danry Vasquez, SS Gustavo Nunez

The Tigers are in a very good position.  They’re coming off an ALCS appearance, their ace just won MVP, and they had a top five offense in baseball last year.  Max Scherzer and Doug Fister are good starters, but if they added Hamels as their game two starter, they could be one of the most complete teams in baseball.  Ownership doesn’t mind throwing money around and would be able to sign Hamels to an extension.

The problem for Detroit is that it’s a pretty shallow farm system.  Turner can make a major league impact and soon, but after that they don’t have much.  He had an unsuccessful cup of coffee in the majors, but he was only 20 and is a top 25 prospect in baseball.  Turner has the potential to pitch at the top of a rotation after signing a huge bonus and a major league contract with Detroit in 2009.  His fastball has plus plus potential at 92-94 MPH with sink.  His curveball and changeup have plus potential, and he has the competitiveness to succeed.  Casey Crosby also has potential, but injuries have limited him badly.  His fastball is actually a bit harder than Turner’s, but his secondary stuff probably won’t be quite as good.  He could have the three pitch arsenal to start, but after Tommy John surgery and more elbow problems, he could become a reliever.

For anyone that wants to feel old, Danry Vasquez can do just that; he was born in 1994, and he got paid over one million dollars to play baseball.  That means he’s a long way away from playing in the majors, but he has a high ceiling.  He’ll likely become a right fielder, and once he adds muscle as he gets older, he’ll have the power and arm to profile there.  Gustavo Nunez is more or less a throw in.  As a 23 year old, he had to repeat high-A, and while he did show improved results, with his age and experience, he should perform well.  Once he was promoted to AA, he returned to struggling at the plate.  He’s fast and a very good defender at short, but if he reaches the majors, it’ll be as a utility player.

Washington Nationals: RHP Brad Peacock, C Derek Norris, CF Michael Taylor, INF Steve Lombardozzi

Under new ownership, Washington has increased spending in both free agency and amateur talent.  The aggressive approach has them rising the standings, but they could still use another top of the rotation starter besides Stephen Strasburg that they don’t have in the upper levels of the organization.  They have a very good farm system, although their upper level tradeable prospects besides the untouchable Bryce Harper are limited.  They could definitely afford a contract extension for Hamels.

Two players in this trade have major league experience, and both were called up for cups of coffee in September.  There is some debate about Peacock’s potential.  If absolutely everything comes together, he could become a three or four starter.  His knuckle-curve is a plus pitch, and although his fastball can sit 92-94, his small-ish size leads to it generally being a flat pitch.  Steve Lombardozzi didn’t have as much success in his brief stints with the Nationals, and his career won’t be as good as Peacock’s.  His future is as a utility player which while nice, is just a throw-in when a team is trading an ace.  His best defensive position is second base, but in a pinch he can play on the left side of the infield.  He won’t hit for any power, but he makes consistent contact with a decent plate approach.

Derek Norris is the top prospect in the deal, and how he would fit in with the Phillies is questionable.  For two consecutive years, he’s hit for a very low average, and he’s had enough time since his hamate injury that it can’t be an excuse anymore.  However, he has great power and plate discipline, and with his compact swing that allows him to hit to all fields, he should hit for a better average.  He has a very good arm behind the plate, and if he becomes an average defender, he has All-Star potential.  Michael Taylor is a young, overslot signing by Washington a couple years ago.  He has decent athleticism with power potential after moving from shortstop to the outfield, but he hasn’t played above low-A.

Los Angeles Dodgers: SS Dee Gordon, RHP Allen Webster, CF James Baldwin

Frank McCourt probably can’t make any splashes at this point in his ownership, but the Dodgers will have a year to sign Hamels to an extension, and they expect to have the ownership situation resolved soon.  Clayton Kershaw is coming off a Cy Young season, but neither Ted Lilly nor Chad Billingsley are number two starters.  It’s not a very good system, and if starter Zach Lee is off the table, they don’t have much.

Dee Gordon, son of former Phillies closer Tom Gordon, spent significant time in the majors after injuries to Rafael Furcal.  It didn’t go as poorly as some expected; he hit .304 in 56 games, but it was a pretty empty average with no power and no patience.  He’s a very fast player who once stole 73 bases in a season, but he needs to become a smarter baserunner.  His defense is also very good, so it’ll come down to how much he can hit.  He’ll never hit for much power and that’s okay, but some believe he’s not even strong enough to barrel up balls consistently to be a singles hitter.

Allen Webster is a solid pitching prospect that could become a mid rotation starter, although it’s probably more likely that he ends up in the mold of a strike throwing four or five.  His low 90’s fastball has some movement, and he complements it with a changeup and curveball that could become above average pitches.  He started the season in high-A but was quickly promoted to AA where he struggled.  He’ll be 22 next season, so it’s not a death sentence that he wasn’t able to have success at that level.  James Baldwin is the athletic type of player the Phillies love, and his plus plus speed plays well in centerfield.  As a 19 year old in a rookie league this year, Baldwin only hit .250, but he did hit 10 home runs in 50 games.  That was an unexpected outcome though.  Baldwin is expected to develop into a 12-15 home run hitter with a solid average.

To be clear, I am not advocating trading Cole Hamels.  However, if the possibility is truly being explored, it’s worth knowing what might be out there for the Phillies.  Do any of them intrigue you?  For me, only the top three deals from the Rangers, Yankees and Red Sox catch my attention.  Perhaps I’m lacking in objectivity when it comes to what he’s worth after following Hamels’ entire career, but it should and would take three small countries and two oceans for him to be moved.  That being said, I would not consider trading him for any of packages listed above.  Thanks to Kevin Goldstein for the proposals he put together.

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Scott Grauer writes for PSC and Bus Leagues Baseball – check him out!  Scott also regularly updates the PSC Minor League Thread with player stats, game results, and more…