FG on Fox: The Phillies Deadline Mistake

Heading into last week’s July 31st trade deadline — not to be confused with an actual deadline after which you can no longer make trades, because MLB doesn’t really have one of those — the Phillies were expected to be one of the primary sellers. They had expensive veterans who had openly talked about playing elsewhere in Jonathan Papelbon and A.J. Burnett. They had a right-handed hitter with some power in Marlon Byrd, and there were a bunch of teams looking for right-handed power. They had Jimmy Rollins, an above average big league shortstop, who turns 36 in a few months and could have helped a number of contenders.

And they had Cole Hamels, one of the game’s best left-handed starting pitchers, signed through the 2018 season at salaries that look downright reasonable in baseball’s current economy. Well, it’s now August, and not only do they still have Papelbon, Burnett, Byrd, and Rollins, but they still have Hamels too. The team with the seventh-worst record in baseball did not make a single trade in the month of July, and soldiers on with Hamels surrounded by a group of mostly over-paid under-performers.

Because of their contracts, it remains quite likely that the Phillies can still trade Papelbon, Burnett, Byrd, or Rollins over the next few weeks — or, if someone puts in a waiver claim on any of them, just let them go and be free of the remaining contractual commitment — but Hamels is unlikely to pass through waivers, and the team’s decision to not trade him last week is tantamount to a decision to not trade him during the season.

As Rob Neyer argued last week, there’s merit in keeping Hamels.

If you’re the Phillies, you trade high-priced (or for that matter, low-priced) players who won’€™t be around when you’€™re ready to win again. That’s why you trade Cliff Lee and, of course, you trade Ryan Howard just because. You trade Cliff Lee because he’s locked up through just 2015 (with a team option for 2016), and you trade Ryan Howard because he’s probably never going to do much in terms of actually winning baseball games.

Cole Hamels, though? Cole Hamels is locked up through 2019. That’s one-two-three-four-five seasons after this one. And considering the Phillies current financial edge over much of their competition — thank you massive television moneys! — if they’re not competitive again at some point in the next two or three years, then someone in the front office is probably doing a lousy job…

… Could a trade make sense? Sure. If you’re the Phillies, you ask for the earth and the moon and the sun and the stars. And maybe you can do without the moon.

Otherwise, though, Cole Hamels is the one guy you keep if you’re serious about winning again in this decade.

Now, I like Rob, and we agree on a lot of things — which is probably why I like him so much — but I don’t really agree with the words above, or the Phillies decision to keep Hamels in general. So let me try and lay out the opposing case.

Read the rest on FoxSports.com.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

36 Responses to “FG on Fox: The Phillies Deadline Mistake”

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  1. Padraic says:

    I would have been interested to see historical comps for a pitcher with such a long deal.

    The basic problem with this kind of thing is that we have no idea what the market is for a top-end starter with 4/5 years left on his deal. Maybe Price is MORE valuable, because he’s not tied down for so long. SO maybe the packages is less than Smyly et al.

    All the long-term reasons listed why the Phillies should trade Hamels are all equally applicable to why teams would not pay less to acquire him.

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    • Eric F says:

      That logic doesn’t make sense to a team that’s good now and looking to win within the next 2 or even 3 years. Hamels will without a doubt help them this year and next year, possibly even pushing a contender up to a favorite. Even if he falls apart in 3 years, chances are good that the team will have gotten what they wanted out of him, at a less-than-market price, and for less yearly commitment than they’d get in free agency.
      I don’t think anybody sees the Phillies competing for anything in the next 3 years, which is why Hamels isn’t much use for them, barring him staying healthy and elite for 2018 when the Phils will realistically be a good team again. That’s why Dave is trying to say they should have traded him, along with the fact that his value is going down every year he gets older and closer to free agency.

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    • Kevin Brown says:

      I was an above average pitcher with 2 more years on my contract making a lot of money on a team that was no longer competitive. Not a xerox of the phillies situation but decent?

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  2. Phillies113 says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    Great piece, Dave, and I absolutely agree. Ruben Amaro paid a high price to “win now” over the course of several years and left the Phillies completely unable to “win later” in the process. And Amaro blaming other GM’s for “not being aggressive enough”, after one of the most aggressive trade deadlines in recent memory, is a slap in the face.

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    • Bill says:

      I don’t know that we can attribute all the Phillies failings to what they gave up in trades. None of the players they traded have amounted to anything, so even if he hadn’t made the trades, they’d be in trouble. I can’t think of any good players that have come out of the Phillies system the past five years. Micheal Borne is the last one I can think of. They are having problems developing players.

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  3. nik says:

    With this logic, the Mariners were fools not trade Felix Hernandez last year as well. How about trading him for a poo-poo platter that the Rays got for Price? How would that go over in Seattle? How is this situation any different.

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    • Eric F says:

      The Phils right now are far worse than the Mariners were, plus the Mariners had/have good prospects coming up their system. The Phils farm is pretty barren right now, and unless they dump salary, which is the topic of the article, they are financially handicapped for years. Not a good recipe for near-future success.

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    • Phillies113 says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      The Phillies are going nowhere fast; that’s the difference. Trading Felix Hernandez doesn’t make sense for a team that actually has some payroll flexibility to make moves and compete. Cole Hamels is like a 4-star admiral that’s stuck on a burning, sinking ship. Rather than waste his talents trying to salvage the wreck, send him somewhere where he can make a difference and in exchange, the Phillies could get some boards to patch the leaking holes.

      I hope that simile made sense.

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      • Captain R. Amaro Jr., HMS Phillies says:

        Why was I criticized for asking for the boards to patch the leaking holes AND some water to put out those fires?

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        • Walter says:

          The market is what the market is. Blaming it on others is frankly horse crap. There were several teams buying pitchers, several teams selling pitchers, agreeing on prices, but you were the only one to not get a deal you liked.

          Dave is right, Hammels is not likely to ever have higher value than he did on the 31st. If you didn’t like the deals yesterday, you probably never will. So meanwhile you’ll watch you ship sink, when you probably could have got those boards and the water through several deals rather than asking for everything god created in one deal.

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        • Billy says:

          This comment actually injected some much needed life into this tired and overused joke.

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    • Except that, you know, Felix Hernandez is two years younger. Three years since you’re comparing Hernandez’ age 27 season to Hamels’ age 30.

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  4. Cave Dameron says:

    As awful as the return was for Price, can’t blame the Phils for not dealing Hamels now. They can always trade him during the offseason or next year at the deadline, and most likely get a much better return. They probably weren’t offered much more than a bag of balls for the other overpriced vets except maybe for Byrd-who had the pesky 2016 vesting option hindering him being moved.

    A bigger failure was the Dodgers not getting Price, now they may be stuck with gas can Haren, who has a 4.60 FIP despite only facing 6 teams with winning records out of his 22 starts. Beckett’s injury looks like it’s affecting him and not sure they can count on having him.

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    • Steve says:

      Why would they possibly get a “much better return” in the offseason or next year?

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    • Bill says:

      History suggests teams pay more during the season. This makes sense as they know their playoff odds and there fewer options available during the season. Why would a team give up a significant part of their future when they can instead bid for Lester or Sheilds on the open market? There was certainly a market for players like Byrd and Bastardo, as well. Similar players were moved.

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  5. Ruben Amaro Jr. says:

    I didn’t pull the trigger because none of those other sissy GMs wanted to buy any pieces!

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  6. Dude says:

    Neyer vs. Cameron? Clash of the Uber-Nerds.

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  7. Steve says:

    So do the comments not work on the Fox site, or does just no one comment?

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  8. Alvaro Pizza says:


    If this is so clear to us readers and you, then the question is.

    Why the hell someone like Amaro is able to be a GM of a MLB team?

    I’m not saying you or me would be better, but I’m sure there are way more competent people who could do a 1000x better job.

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    • Eric F says:

      I think some of the problem might be that GMs are usually promoted from within the front office, and I sure wouldn’t trust anybody who’s been raised by RAJ.

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  9. walt526 says:

    There’s a limited number of teams able/willing to commit nearly $100M for ~4.3 years of a starting pitching, let alone trade young cost-controlled talent to acquire one. One of them–the Red Sox–were themselves sellers; the Dodgers and Yankees appear to have made a strategic decision not to part with talent at the deadline. Detroit landed Price, the Giants and Cardinals settled for cheaper/inferior options, etc. Also, there were two very similar pitchers (elite, 30ish LH starters) on the market at the same time. The trade value of Hamels in the abstract is probably much, much greater than it was in reality–at least at this particular time.

    I’m the farthest thing from an Amaro apologist, but not trading Hamels at the deadline may have been his least bad option. Certainly if he had “given away” Hamels, we’d almost certainly be criticizing him using some variation of the phrase “if that’s all that he could have gotten for him, he should have just kept him.”

    I agree with the premise that Hamels is a depreciating asset who could suddenly and rapidly lose value at any time due to injury. I also agree that the Phillies shouldn’t hold onto him for 2015-16 in the hopes that they’re contending in 2017-18. At the same time, I’m willing to seriously consider the proposition that Amaro determined that market conditions might be better in the off-season and decided to make no trade rather than a bad trade. The only risk is that Hamels gets injured between now and November, which is possible but not very likely. A criticism of the Price deal was the supposition that the same package (or something very similar to it) would have been available in the off-season–by the same logic, aside from risk of serious injury over his next 10 starts, why would the Phillies expect to get a materially worse offer in November?

    Amaro is a terrible GM who has made some embarrassingly stupid moves in his tenure. But not trading Hamels last week was not necessarily one of them.

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  10. Emcee Peepants says:

    Not trading Hamels is the only defensible move that RAJ made at the deadline. I would have been ecstatic if he had gotten rid of any of the other dead weight on the roster, regardless of the return. I’d like to see most of them just go for free on waivers, to be honest. However, Hamels is signed to a relatively team friendly contract and is likely to pitch well for 2-3 more years. A #3 starter and a couple B/C prospects seems to be the going rate when trading a #1 starter, looking at not only the Price trade but also the Kevin Brown, Schilling, Halladay, and Santana trades mentioned above. How does a #3 starter and a couple of B/C prospects make the Phillies better in 2016 than they would be with Hamels? I just don’t think it does. The presence of Hamels on the roster is not the problem with the Phillies, it’s Lee, Howard, Rollins, Byrd, Burnett, and Papelbon.

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    • Bill says:

      I agree it’s a defensible move. The fact that he’s a fan favorite also has to factor in to the decision. However, I think the return the Cubs got for Shark would have been acceptable.

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  11. joser says:

    That’s not really true though, is it, that GMs are usually promoted from within? Colletti, Moore, O’Dowd, Zduriencik, Hoyer/Epstein with the Cubs (and Hoyer also with the Padres), Duquette, Huntington, Friedman, Luhnow, Towers, Melvin, Preller, Dipoto, Alderson… all outside hires. And that’s just current managers, and just off the top of my head. I’m not going to look through all 30 orgs but I bet it’s at least as common to not promote from within (especially if you don’t include the “special assistant” role that is used to hire and stash a GM-in-waiting).

    Of course, RAJ was appointed from within and maybe that’s a Phillies thing, and that’s what you meant?

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  12. cs3 says:

    How would you divide up the blame for such an obvious blunder as the Phils inactivity this year?
    Is it coming from ownership?
    Or is Amaro making all the personnel decisions himself?

    Even if its the latter, it seems like ownership is clueless if they keep him around, allowing him to hold back the franchise and extend the rebuild time frame.

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  13. bmarkham says:

    I’m not a Phillies fan, but it’s fun to think about the moves they could have made to help reload and rebuild. Going with the hypothetical that they move Hammels for what the Rays got for Price, Smyly slots into the rotation with Franklin moving to 2B. They then trade Utley and Rollins and sign HanRam or Hardy in the offseason. Then trade Papelbon, Burnett, and Byrd. The way things happened with Lee getting hurt they couldn’t move him at the deadline, but maybe they move him during waivers or in the offseason. Then sign some of the guys on the FA market, say Lester and Shields to replace Burnett and Lee’s spots in the rotation. Uehara to replace Papelbon. There’s a handful of outfield FA next year that could be expected to replace Byrd’s production, we’ll say Seth Smith.

    So all in all you replace Hamels, Burnett, and Lee with Lester, Shields, and Smyly, which probably saves you on AAV because of Smyly. You replace Utley for Franklin, similar production at a cheaper price and younger. HanRam replaces Rollins which takes the savings they got from Smyly but HanRam is also a lot better than Rollins. Also replace Marlon Byrd for Seth Smith and slot Uehara in for Papelbon. So you’ve got pretty much the same talent level at a similar payroll level but it’s younger and controlled for longer, and that’s not even taking into account what prospects or major league talent they get from trading Utley, Papelbon, Burnett, Lee, and Byrd. If it was all prospects, it would completely rejuvenate their system, or they could trade them later for major league talent.

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    • ASK says:

      This is all well and good except that Papelbon, Lee, Rollins, and Utley are virtually, if not completely, untradeable…Papelbon because he’s due ~$30M through the end of 2016, Lee because he’s out for the year and Rollins and Utley because they have 10-and-5 rights and don’t want to be traded. Throw in the limited no-trade clauses that Byrd and Burnett hold and the team is possibly stuck with them, too.

      The problem with RAJ is not so much that he didn’t make trades at the deadline. It’s that the back-loading, option years, vesting options and no-trade clauses that he gave (seemingly unnecessarily in most cases) out when signing these players have made them so much harder to move than he realizes.

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    • Bill says:

      I like your approach, even though I think you need to give more thought to the actual moves.

      Let’s see: Hamels for Franklin and Smyly
      Trade Utley say to Toronto for a haul of prospects.
      Trade Burnett. Even if they get nothing for him this will help because they can then use the savings to sign HanRam to play third and grab a top tier free agent pitcher and sign a Mike Morse type to play in the outfield.
      Cut Ryan Howard

      This are fairly easy moves, but even in this the team payroll would be similar (+5 million?), the 2015 team would be better, and the farm system would be improved.

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  14. chuckb says:

    It’s plausible that the Phils’ ownership wouldn’t allow Amaro to trade Hamels unless he could receive a mint in return. They have to be thinking about firing him and maybe they’ve decided to allow the new GM to rebuild the team. Maybe they just don’t trust him to get good value for Hamels.

    If they decide not to dump Amaro after the season, then Amaro should be criticized for missing out on this opportunity.

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  15. Nick C says:

    Raj is just in insane, and an idiot. He is running the same team out there for the past three years now, and he is expecting different results?

    These guys were good, but at some point you need to realize that keeping the band together is not a good idea. The Stones sound like a bunch of senior citizens on stage, and the Phillies look like a bunch of hasbeens.

    It’s time to get whatever marginal value you can get for these guys. Go to your 10/5 guys ask them what teams they will veto, and if they don’t just tell them you will cut them damn their salary.

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