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.