To Trade Cole Hamels or not to trade Cole Hamels. To sign Cole Hamels long-term or not to sign Cole Hamels long-term? To let Cole Hamels walk or not to let Cole Hamels walk? "These are the times that try men's souls," said Thomas Paine, perhaps foretelling the dilemma of what is facing Ruben Amaro Jr and the Phillies brain-trust.
There's no denying that Cole Hamels is one of the top pitchers in baseball and the Phillies have a monumental decision on their hands. The real issue is that they've put themselves in this position through moves that they've made in the past, so they have no one to blame but themselves. For the past couple seasons, there has been a growing whisper that the Phillies needed to start getting younger. Their real stars are aging and not in a classy, Dick Clark sort of way. Instead, players like Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and yes, even Jimmy Rollins are needing to show ID to prove they're as young as they say. The Phillies compounded things slightly be miscalculating on long-term deals for Utley and Howard, but that's not the main mistake that they've made. After all, both players were putting up stats that said they deserved long deals, but the Phillies may have gone a little overboard on the length of the deals, but most teams have a couple moves like that in their history. Re-signing Rollins this past winter was a bad move. Yes, he's a fan favorite, but he is wearing down and not only is he losing his baseball skills, he's losing his leadership skills. "Don't waste your time, guys," is not what a team leader says when reporters come up to him looking for answers.
Where the Phillies may have really made their mistake with Hamels was when they negotiated Cliff Lee's contract. They guaranteed Lee five years with an option season for 2016, basically making it a six year deal, since he'll get $12.5 million in 2016 even if they don't pick up the option. Even at the time, Hamels could make an argument that he was every bit as good as Lee and is younger with less mileage on his arm. In other words, that deal with Lee meant that for Hamels to ask for anything less than six-years guaranteed, would simply be bad negotiating on his part. Now that Hamels is showing himself to be better than Lee, a seventh season has to at least be in play for Hamels' next deal.
The Phillies start to get nauseous when they have to go anywhere over three years on a deal with a pitcher, so seven years is something they likely can't even comprehend. Both sides say they want to get a deal done, which there is absolutely no reason to doubt. Problem is that the Phillies are likely thinking a deal more like Lee's and Hamels is likely thinking a deal more like one that would make him one of the highest paid pitchers in baseball. So, if the Phillies can't chug enough Pepto-Bismol to give Hamels a seven-year deal - or at least make the seventh season into an option - then it's unlikely a deal gets done. The smart way to go would be to guarantee Hamels a seventh season based on his performance in season number six of the deal. In other words, if he's still giving a good number of productive innings, he gets big bucks for 2019 and if he's worn down, he gets a much lower buyout. That's one way to bridge the gap on years and seems fair to both sides. The issue in a deal like that though is that Hamels could well believe someone will guarantee seven years and he won't have to worry about whether or not he'll get that final $20-some-million in the final season of his deal. One thing the Phillies want to avoid doing is back-loading the contract; that never turns out good. That would have him earning something more like $30 million in the final season or two of the deal and if he ages like Mr. Utley or Mr. Howard, that won't be pretty.
The Phillies could go to the wire with Hamels and let him go into free agency, risking that he signs elsewhere. In that scenario, the Phillies would get a first round pick from the signing team as long as that team's pick isn't in the top ten picks of next year's draft. Right now, those ten teams would be: Seattle, Minnesota, Kansas City, Houston, Colorado, Chicago Cubs, San Diego, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Miami. Are any of those teams likely to sign Hamels? Maybe Kansas City makes a run at him and the best option might be San Diego. They'll have new owners, might want to make a splash and Cole is a Cali guy. In other words, it's not extremely likely that the compensation would fall down to being a second-rounder. By the way, the Angels got Mike Trout as a compensation pick when they let Mark Teixeira walk and that's worked out pretty well. Of course, there are no guarantees and would a mid-to-low first-round pick and a compensation round pick be a good enough return for Cole Hamels. Not likely, especially since both of those players would likely take years to reach Philadelphia.
Letting Hamels walk isn't the best option for the Phillies and some say it shouldn't be an option at all.
That leaves us with trading Cole Hamels. Right now, the target-of-the-week honor goes to the Texas Rangers and for good reason. First, the Rangers need a starting pitcher, and after falling short in the World Series the past couple seasons, you can bet that they'll go after one before the trade deadline. The other thing that makes Texas interesting is that they not only have a good farm system, but they have a couple super-prospects who are not only major league ready, but also play at positions of need for the Phillies.
First consideration is 23-year old Mike Olt, who is a power-hitting third baseman playing at Double-A Frisco. Olt has good patience at the plate, and plus bat speed while making good contact and hitting 22 home runs with 63 RBI heading into the break. Defensively, Olt has a strong arm and soft hands and while he's not the fastest player on the field, he has quick, instinctive reactions. Even though he can handle third base, the fact that Olt is blocked by Adrian Beltre in Texas, so there has been talk of Olt moving to first base or possibly to left field. At Frisco this season, Olt has played eight games at first and one in right field and has looked comfortable in both positions.
Some believe that Olt isn't the best player in Frisco. For some, that honor goes to Yurickson Profar, who caught some eyes in the recent Futures Game. At just 19, Profar is not only already at Double-A, but has shown he is the real deal. A product of Curacao, Profar has primarily played at short, but did spend some time at second base in the Rangers minor league system. Defensively, Profar has impressive range and a strong arm; some say he falls into the category of a 'wizard' defensively. As Profar continues to fill out, he's developing more natural power - 16 home runs in 178 minor league games coming into the season and ten round-trippers in 82 games this season - and shows decent discipline at the plate, resulting in his average climbing each season to its current spot at .291 as the break arrived. Profar also has decent speed, but hasn't used it as much this season - nine stolen bases - as he did last season when he stole 23 bases. Can you see a double-play combination of Freddy Galvis and a guy like Profar? That could be very nice.
Just how good is Profar? He started to gain recognition as an 11-year old when he was part of the Curacao Little Team that won the Championship in Williamsport back in 2004. He actually threw six innings of one-hit ball against Mexico in the International Final and then went 2-for-3 with a home run in Curacao's win over California in the Championship Game. The following season, he threw six shutout innings against Japan as Curacao finished as the runner-up. At one time, Profar was more respected as a pitcher than as a shortstop, but the Rangers thought differently and his bat has developed enough to have warranted their approach to developing Profar. Last season, he became the youngest player to play in the South Atlantic League All-Star Game and in the Futures Game.
In the pre-season Scout.com Top 300 Prospects list Profar was ranked as the seventh best overall prospect in all of baseball - and the best at shortstop - while Olt was ranked 62nd and listed as the fourth best third base prospect in baseball.
The Rangers also have a 21-year old left-handed starter Martin Perez in their organization. Perez has pitched in three games with Texas this season - two starts - and has struggled to a 6.00 ERA in his first taste of the majors. Keep in mind though, that this kid is just 21 and still has some learning to do. In his minor league career, Perez' ERA is a very benign 4.29 and he's just a tad rough around the edges, but he should be at least a mid-rotation type starter in the majors before too long.
Perez has a low-90s fastball with good, late movement and compliments it with a low to mid-80s change and a sweeping curve. He's somewhat inconsistent with his secondary pitches and sometimes doesn't use his fastball enough early in counts, but being young enough, he can still develop his pitches and has time to gain confidence in his fastball. He's generally thought of as one of the best pitchers around his age in all of minor league baseball.
In perusing the minor league systems around baseball - at least those that might have an interest in dealing for Hamels - the Rangers definitely stand out. The prospects that they have would give flexibility to a trade package and would fill definite holes in the Phillies' system. Other organizations have parts that may interest the Phillies, but can't put together a full package of players with the upside of what Texas could offer. If the Phillies could pry two of these three prospects from the Rangers, it would be a good enough return for the Phillies to seriously consider dealing Hamels to the Rangers.
If Cole Hamels will fill a couple holes in the organization by being dealt to Texas - or any other place the Phillies can find a suitable deal - the Phillies can still make a run at him in free agency. If they're unable to re-sign him, they would have saved a bunch of money that they could apply to continue filling holes, including the one left by Hamels in the rotation. As much as it may hurt a lot of Phillies fans see Hamels dealt, it may be the best alternative for the Phillies.