In the middle of the 2012 season, the end of the Phillies' five-year playoff run, Cole Hamels signed his six-year, $144 million extension with the only team he has ever played for. At the time, anyone with more than just a casual interest in the team, or baseball in general, knew that there was very little chance Hamels would complete the entirety of that extension in red pinstripes. And, as expected, the rumors have escalated each offseason and trade deadline since then. Following this most recent campaign, however, the talks of a trade concerning the left-hander have reached an all-time high, and a deal is very much expected.
But, is it really?
Just after the season wrapped up and the official offseason began, the rumors of Cole Hamels moving, and in particular, to the Boston Red Sox, moved up rapidly. Potential packages between the two teams covered a wide array of players, and several reports focused in on the incredible lengths the Phillies scouting department went to evaluate the Red Sox farm system. Several articles on this website alone are split as to whether or not Boston could send us back a good enough package to compensate for the loss of Hamels. While Hamels doesn't necessarily receive the national attention as some of the other top lefties, he should still bring in a hefty return. That is, if the Phillies are not overvaluing his talents.
In the five year period from 2010 through 2014, Cole Hamels ranks number ten in WAR for starting pitchers during said span. The left-handed pitchers that can be found ahead of Cole include Clayton Kershaw, Cliff Lee, David Price, and Jon Lester. As you probably know, Lester is a free agent this offseason, and played with Boston up through this season's trade deadline, when he was traded to the Oakland Athletics. At the time of the trade, many believed Lester and the Red Sox had planned for the left-hander to return in the offseason on some sort of long-term contract.
Recent reports, though, say that Lester has already turned down a six-year deal in the $110-$120 million range, placing the average annual value at about $20 million. It looks as though Lester will be looking for money in the neighborhood of what the Phillies gave both Cliff Lee and Hamels in the $24-$25 AAV range. Now, Hamels has already told the Phillies that, if he is going to void his no-trade clause, the new team must accept his option year, which would put him under team control for five years and $110 million.
With all that being said, the outlook is something like this. The Red Sox could sign a couple of prospects, a prospect and Yoenis Cespedes, or some other group of players for Hamels at $22 million a year. On the other hand, Boston could sign Jon Lester for around six years and $144-$150 million without giving up any prospects. Recent numbers show that each player is fairly similar in performance to the other, with Lester holding a 22.4 WAR and Hamels a 20.5. Having been born just eleven days apart, Lester and Hamels are nearly exchangeable pieces. In that case, why would the Red Sox want to part ways with players AND pay Hamels that money when they could simply use that money in a deal for Lester?
While Boston has the ability to bring in both guys, if given the choice, Lester comes in as the better option. This then forces the Phillies to look elsewhere. Next on the list is the Chicago Cubs, another team on on the Hamels trail. After they dealt two of their starting pitchers to Oakland last trade deadline, Chicago seemingly has a plethora of prospects they could send to Philly, and are the much better trade partner, according to some. But with time ticking, and names like James Shields and Max Scherzer still available, a deal with a free agent pitcher seems more likely in Chicago before a trade will be put together.
Who's left? Well, really, any team would love to plug Hamels in their rotation at this stage of his career, but few can afford him. The Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals have been mentioned as potential candidates as well, but not in the same breath as Chicago and Boston. Some have even hinted at the idea of Cole going home to play with the San Diego Padres, though, no one really expects that. At this point, the options for the left hander's services are being spread thin.
Perhaps a team gets desperate in February, with all of the highly sought after starting pitchers off the market. A team just on the verge of a playoff push, but needing to add a player or two to get over the hump. Teams like the Toronto Blue Jays or Chicago White Sox, who may just be in the area between good and pitiful, may feel a move like this could give them the edge they need. Maybe I'm just hoping for unattainable trades, but it is too good not to think about.
This leads me to tell you exactly what will happen with Cole Hamels this offseason.
Come Opening Day 2015, 31-year-old Cole Hamels will be on the mound for the Philadelphia Phillies against, coincidentally, the Boston Red Sox. However, don't hang on the the #35 shirseys for too long. After twelve months of other teams telling him his asking price is too high, Ruben Amaro will finally put together the correct package for Cole Hamels before next year's trade deadline. While it's hard to look that far ahead, it would not surprise me to see Hamels head to Chicago with the Cubs amidst a playoff push. Theo Epstein and his team in Chicago, sitting three games behind the Cardinals and Pirates in the National League Central Division come July 28th, will give the Phillies enough to acquire the lefty, and everyone is (sort of) happy.
Until that date, let us enjoy these last few months we'll have of Hollywood Hamels in Phillies red.
Andrew Gillen, Managing Editor of Philliedelphia.com