Boy is it ever easy to trade away other people’s stuff. From a distance, it’s easy to recognize when a guy has to go, as things are uncomplicated by memories and emotions. It sucks the Philadelphia Phillies just about have to trade Cole Hamels. He’s great, and he’s been there forever, through some really good times, and people have developed an attachment to him. Even the Phillies have officially recognized the era is over, but moving Hamels would be a painful kind of closure. The front office doesn’t want to deal Hamels for younger, unfamiliar talent. But it has to happen. As popular as Hamels is, from an objective standpoint, he’s not getting better. And he’d mean a lot more to a team with a prayer of winning something over the next couple years.
So the Phillies ought to be looking to cash in on Hamels. More seriously than they did around the deadline, I mean. The Phillies are poised to gut what there is to gut, and Hamels is a front-line starter who’d hit a market thirsty for front-line starters. Probably the most popular rumor so far: Hamels leaving the Phillies for the Boston Red Sox, in exchange for a package that involved young players. Clearly, nothing has yet been agreed to, but clearly, there will be some more negotiations. So what could we conceivably see as a trade? Let’s design a Red Sox move for Cole Hamels.
This is the way Hamels’ contract is structured:
- 2015: $22.5 million
- 2016: $22.5 million
- 2017: $22.5 million
- 2018: $22.5 million
- 2019: $20 million club option, $6 million buyout
I’m going to make an assumption in this post: Hamels has trade protection against the Red Sox. The assumption is that, in order to waive that, Hamels would need the option picked up. So I’m going to treat his contract as $110 million over five years. It’s less than what Jon Lester is looking for. It’s less than what Max Scherzer is looking for. Not that Hamels is quite up there with Lester or Scherzer.
A huge part of this, obviously, is evaluating what Hamels is today. Whether you like arguments based on contract surplus value, that’s the framework by which moves get made, even if unintentionally. And to figure out Hamels’ surplus value, we need to take a guess at how good he is — and how good he will be. Over the past three years, he’s averaged 4.1 WAR. He’s averaged 4.7 RA9-WAR. He turns 31 a couple days after Christmas. One factor that might be significant: Hamels’ quality of opposition. According to Baseball Prospectus, in 2013, Hamels’ opponents had the second-lowest combined OPS out of all pitchers with at least 100 innings. In 2014, Hamels’ opponents were seventh-lowest, out of 144. So there should probably be some kind of adjustment. Against a more average slate of opponents, it stands to reason Hamels would’ve done a little worse.
But I’ve decided to cover multiple bases. Is Hamels a 4.5-win pitcher? Is he a 4-win pitcher? A 3.5? I’ll show you the numbers for each, subtracting half a win for each future season. I’m also showing numbers starting with $7 million/WAR, and $6 million/WAR. Those would be estimates of current market rates, and I increased them 5% in each future season. The table should be simple enough: Hamels’ starting value, the starting market rate of a win and the surplus value of Hamels’ contract.
|2015 Value||$m/WAR||Surplus Value ($m)|
By the most generous estimates in there, Hamels’ surplus value would be $23.5 million. But then you’ve got $4.4 million and $4.2 million and some numbers below zero. Maybe the lowest seems far-fetched, but one could argue the same about the highest, so you can see why the Phillies have so far failed to turn Hamels into a massive prospect bounty. No one believes he’d be worth it. Everyone believes Hamels is good. It’s just he’s already getting paid to be good, for a while.
That’s a key difference between a hypothetical Hamels trade and the actual James Shields trade. Hamels now and Shields then are similarly talented starting pitchers, at similar ages. But Shields earned just $9 million in 2013, and $13.5 million in 2014. He had surplus value on top of that, and there was no long-term commitment to tie up the Royals’ future payrolls. There was also more going on in the trade, but over the two-year period, Shields would have about $20 million more surplus value than Hamels, in current money, and Hamels has those extra expensive years at the back.
So let’s think about this. There are alternatives to trading for Cole Hamels. But maybe there’s some value in getting him, specifically, since the alternatives aren’t limitless. Let’s be nice to Hamels and the Phillies and estimate his real surplus contract value between $10 million and $20 million. It’s below the highest estimate in the table, but above the average. What’s the prospect-return equivalent of $10 million to $20 million?
We can’t actually know, but this is helpful and this is helpful. Those work as some convenient guides. We can rule some guys out right away. Xander Bogaerts is off limits. Mookie Betts, too. Also Christian Vazquez, probably, since he’s already broken in. Blake Swihart isn’t moving — he’s worth somewhere between $35 million and $50 million. Henry Owens seems like he’s worth right around $20 million to $30 million. That’s close, but it’s a little steep. Already, I’m trying to be generous.
Baseball America has Eduardo Rodriguez ranked fourth in the Red Sox’s system. Kiley put him second, a hair north of Owens, because Rodriguez flashed better stuff after arriving from Baltimore. Rodriguez might work as a primary piece, depending on where you put him relative to Owens. He’s in the neighborhood.
So there’s an argument for Rodriguez for Hamels, straight-up. If the Phillies want some quantity on top of that, they can take some lower-level, toolsy sorts. With Rodriguez in there, though, the Phillies can’t get too greedy because Rodriguez might be more than enough on his own.
Move on from Rodriguez. Let’s stay curious. Fifth on Kiley’s list: Manuel Margot. He’s seventh, by BA, right behind Rafael Devers. Kiley has Devers sixth, too. These guys should be pushing for inclusion at the bottom of a top-100, so then they’d be valued right around $10 million to $20 million each. One is 20 and one is 18, so there’s a lot of work left to do, but the ceilings are extraordinary. So here’s another possibility: Hamels for Margot or Hamels for Devers. Each is good enough to be a centerpiece. As before, the Phillies might ask for another piece or two in addition, of far lower value.
Let’s say, instead of focusing on one major prospect, the Phillies wanted a couple pretty good prospects. This leads us to Garin Cecchini and Brian Johnson. BA has them 10th and fifth; Kiley has them seventh and eighth. Cecchini, a year ago, was ranked 74th overall by BA, but then he had an unremarkable year in Triple-A. Johnson, meanwhile, is unexciting, but Kiley describes him as just about big-league ready. Now I’m really just making educated guesses, but Cecchini’s value might be around $8 million to $16 million. Johnson should be at $5 million to $15 million, or so. He could be less than that, in which case Cecchini and Johnson could be combined. Alternatively, you fold in Matt Barnes, who’s a worse prospect than Johnson but who has better raw stuff. Barnes and Johnson would match the estimated Hamels value, more or less. Any combination of two of these three should be enough to satisfy the Phillies, based on the Hamels analysis.
There’s one thing the Phillies can do to improve their haul: cover some of Hamels’ remaining salary. They’re not exactly hard up for money, and they’re unlikely to need all their payroll space at least in the next few years anyway, as they rebuild. Let’s say the Phillies are focused on Henry Owens. Straight-up, that would be a bit steep for the Red Sox, but roughly $10 million might even it out. If they wanted Rodriguez, maybe $5 million does it. If the Phillies wanted Margot and Devers, they’d essentially buy one of them out, at between $10 million and $20 million. The more they chip in, the more they get, because every reduction in how much the Red Sox owe Hamels increases his total surplus value.
That’s about how this ought to go, analytically speaking. Ruben Amaro needs to back off his reported demands. No one’s going to floor him with a prospect package unless the Phillies cover a substantial amount of Hamels’ future money. The above was also somewhat generous to Hamels and to the Phillies, so if the consensus evaluation is that Hamels is a little worse, the cost only goes down (for the team getting Hamels). Which should make the Phillies more willing to throw in money since prospects are more important to them than money right now. This is, to some extent, an opportunity for them to buy a decent prospect or three. The Red Sox have plenty of prospects to offer. There’s a match here, if the Phillies want it to happen.
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