Well-documented has been the strenuous process of Ruben Amaro Jr. trying to find the perfect partner in hopes of trading away the services of left-hander Cole Hamels. With the team headed into a several-year-long rebuilding process, moving the 2008 World Series Most Valuable Player seems to be the most sensible way of bringing in some important building blocks. Up until yesterday, we heard very little from the organization regarding the Hamels situation. Then, an article from Bob Nightengale of USA Today surfaced, revealing Cole's feelings on the team and his future.
To summarize, the Phillies' long-time starting pitcher wants only to win in the second half of his career, and knows that that won't happen in Philadelphia. While everything he said was truthful, it was still surprising to hear Hamels say it so plainly. For more on that facet of the article, check out Erik's post from yesterday.
Later on in the article is a particular piece of information that has been somewhat ignored. Nightengale reveals that, in discussing a trade with other organizations, Ruben Amaro Jr. received a particular offer from the San Diego Padres. Said offer would have included outfielder Hunter Renfroe and catcher Austin Hedges. Obviously, Amaro denied the offer, wanting more for the Phillies' crown jewel. Initially, two prospects doesn't seem to be enough to acquire a pitcher of Hamels' caliber. However, a closer look may change some minds.
Let's first take a look at Hunter Renfroe. Despite being drafted late in the 2010 MLB Draft, Renfroe decided to go play college baseball for Mississippi State University. He won the 2013 C Spire Ferriss Trophy, given annually to Mississippi's best collegiate baseball player. Later that year, the Padres selected Renfroe with the thirteenth overall pick in the MLB Draft. Since being drafted, the 23-year-old has played for four different affiliates of the Padres, performing moderately well with each.
In 2013, Renfroe played right field for both the Eugene Emeralds and the Fort Wayne TinCaps, both Single A representatives for San Diego. With 43 total games played, he accumulated 46 hits, 14 doubles, and 6 home runs with an on-base percentage of .308 and a walk rate just under 5%. 2014 saw an overall improvement, though. Now with 129 games played (a quarter of which now in center field), 134 hits, 33 doubles, 3 triples, 21 homeruns, an OBP of .342 and a wak rate of 9.34%, all for A+ and AA teams (Lake Elsinore and San Antonio).
Philadelphia's outfield situation alone is enough to warrant Hunter coming to the Phillies organization (Renfroe, not this guy). While projections are always difficult to pinpoint, Renfroe already seems poised to be a low-mid level power bat with an escalating ability to get on base often. As far as his current ranking sits, he is Baseball America's #3 prospect in the Padres' organization, while Baseball Prospectus has him #2. MLB.com has Renfroe as the #48 prospect in all of baseball, and BP has him at #50. According to MLB's rankings, the outfielder's biggest positives are his power and arm strength, with 13 assists last season recorded. For more, check out his bio here.
The Phillies current best outfield prospect is certainly up for debate. Roman Quinn has played some of his games in center field, but has only his OBP and speed going for him currently. Kelly Dugan can get on base as well, but also seems to lack another major plus. Carlos Tocci struggles to reach a .300 OBP, and has now power to speak of. Bringing in Hunter Renfroe instantly makes him the highest rated outfield prospect in the Phillies organization.
The other rumored trade bait is catcher Austin Hedges. Hedges took a bit of a different path to the Padres' organization, signing with them during the 2011 MLB Draft out of Junipero Serra Catholic High School, despite having committed to UCLA. After being taken in the second round, Hedges, also 23 years old, jumped to the Arizona League. He'd then move up through the ranks, now having played for five different teams in the system.
In 2012, Hedges' first full season, he saw action in 96 total games for the TinCaps. With all of those games coming as the team's catcher, he collected 94 hits, with 28 doubles, 10 home runs, a .334 OBP and a 6.1% walk rate. Hedges played for three teams, Peoria Javelinas (AZFL), Lake Elsinore Storm, and San Antonio Missions, during the 2013 season. The numbers did not change much, with Hedges playing in 101 games. 93 hits, 30 doubles, just four home runs, a .333 OBP and a 8.2% made up his campaign. Just last season, though, the catcher saw a dip in production. In 113 games for SA, his hit total remained level at 96, while his doubles dropped to 19. 6 home runs remained about the same as well, but his averages saw the most significant difference. A .268 OBP is a sharp decline from the previous two seasons, and a walk rate of just 5% causes some head scratching.
Despite the drop in production, Hedges remains in high praise around baseball. He comes in at #4 on Baseball America's Top Ten Padre Prospect list, and at #1 on Baseball Prospectus'. MLB.com has him ranked #51 league-wide, while BP has him sitting at #23. With the little reliability that can be placed on such rankings, we can still see there is a general consensus that Hedges' has the chance to be a stellar major leaguer and can easily bounce back from the 2014 fallback. Taking a look at the Phillies' current situation, Carlos Ruiz will continue to start for the team in 2015. In the future, though, Cameron Rupp seems to be the current replacement, considering Tommy Joseph's struggles with concussions. The addition of such a prime catching prospect could be vital to a rebuild.
We've heard on multiple occasions that the Phillies will only make a deal with the Boston Red Sox if catcher Blake Swihart is involved. A comparison of Swihart and Hedges seems to point to Swihart being the more talented catching prospect. At such young ages, however, the possibility of either guy becoming major league All-Stars is relatively equal. Swihart seems to have the advantage mainly in on-base percentage, with the rest of the statistics hanging on the fence.
While the team may covet Swihart, what else could they realistically receive from Boston? They're already so heavily in favor of keeping him around, so if they were ever to be ready to let him go, they'd be less inclined to give up any other above-average prospect. In San Diego's case, they were prepared to not only part ways with a catcher of high praise, but an outfielder with a similar respect.
Talking prospects is always such a difficult task. Rankings and projections are hard to nail, but the discussion is always entertaining. In this case, we know Cole Hamels is on his way out of Philadelphia sooner rather than later. We don't know where quite yet, but it is in the foreseeable future. However, we do know that the Padres are willing to deal both young players, and in all honesty, should already have.
Perhaps Amaro was looking for a third name in the deal. In such a case, it isn't out of the realm of possibility to ask for someone like outfielder Will Venable, especially when you consider the fact that the Padres have acquired outfielders Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, and Wil Myers all in one offseason. Venable becomes an expendable player, one that could easily transition into the Phillies current outfield.
To wrap up my long-winded point, the reported offer from the San Diego Padres of Austin Hedges and Hunter Renfroe in a package deal for Cole Hamels, especially one that would have also included a respectable third player, should have been accepted. While the Phillies longing for Blake Swihart is understandable, they will not get much more than that from Boston. San Diego was, and presumably is still, willing to cough up two high-level prospects. The future of the Philadelphia Phillies would look quite a bit brighter with two new members of their Top Ten prospect list (and, really, their top five). One can only hope that Ruben Amaro is weaseling his way into a third player in the deal that send Cole Hamels back home.
Andrew Gillen, Managing Editor of Philliedelphia.com