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June 11, 2015

Believe it or not, it's going to get worse for the Phillies

Phillies MLB
061115_Hamels_AP Matt Slocum/AP

Phillies starter Cole Hamels has been the subject of trade rumors all season long.

Soon, everything good -- no matter how little there was to begin with -- could be gone. 

Even the small modicum of home you'd feel once or twice a week could be stripped from you before long. That's just the way it has to be, because it is only in darkness that one can see the proverbial "light."

I'm talking, of course, about the Phillies pitching staff.

Already sporting the third-worst team ERA in baseball at 4.30, it would seem there's really only room for improvement. But according to recent reports, two of the team's best pitchers, Jonathan Papelbon and Cole Hamels, could be on their way out of town before long. 

That doesn't even include Aaron Harang, who has been the surprise of the starting staff this season with a team-best 3.04 ERA through 13 starts.

The Phillies bullpen, especially the back end of it, has been decent, especially when compared to the a starting staff that sports an ERA near five, something that hasn't been helped by the 'pen's inability to prevent inherited runners from scoring. They're currently dead last in the league, allowing 45 percent of those runners to cross the plate.


The difference is obvious, but not uncommon. Bullpens usually have a significantly lower ERA than that of the starting staff. Unfortunately for the Phillies and their fans, those numbers are only going to worsen as the season progresses. 

There have been trade rumors involving Hamels floating around since before the season started. However, according to various reports, GM Ruben Amaro's asking price remains too high. But at some point before the July 31 trade deadline, you can expect common ground will be reached.

Via Nick O'Malley of

For the Phillies, raiding Boston's prospect cupboards in exchange for their premier player is the most logical move. Philadelphia's long-term outlook is rough, especially with its farm system universally regarded as one of the weaker ones in the league. The Phillies need assets, and don't have much else going for them outside of Hamels.

There are at least two enormous obstacles separating the Red Sox and Phillies from a possible deal. One is the price tag for Hamels. GM Ben Cherington's commitment to holding onto the franchise's top prospects is strong -- no matter how badly the Phillies might've wanted Mookie Betts. The second is the fit. Boston's rotation is a murky mess. They'll have to decide what their plans are with the likes of Joe Kelly, Justin Masterson and Eduardo Rodriguez before adding another arm. If their plan is to move Masterson to the bullpen and choose between Kelly and Rodriguez, then the road is clear to acquire the ace that they were expected to grab months ago.  []

It's long been rumored -- with a few exceptions -- that the Red Sox are the prime candidate to land Hamels; they have the prospects and a team in need of a few pieces if they hope to still be playing when October rolls around.

But Hamels, 31, along with No. 2 starter Aaron Harang, are the only reason the rotation's ERA isn't comically high. Just take a look at what happens when you remove the two H's from the equation:

  Hamels/Harang  9-12170.1593.12
Rest of starters*6-20178.11286.46
*Includes Jerome Williams, Chad Billingsley, Severino Gonzalez, Sean O’Sullivan, Dustin McGowan, and David Buchanan

That's...uh...pretty terrible. And it makes the prospect of sitting in the stands at Citizens Bank Park on a 90-degree day seem almost unbearable. 

Meanwhile, out in the bullpen, things aren't a whole lot better. The dichotomy between good and bad is just as apparent as it is among the starters. This time, let's isolate Papelbon and Ken Giles -- don't worry, he's not going anywhere just yet -- to see what the rest of the bullpen has been doing:

Rest of bullpen*134583.90
*Includes Jeanmar Gomez, Justin De Fratus, Elvis Araujo, Dustin McGowan, Jake Diekman, Luis Garcia, Hector Neris, and Cesar Jimenez

Papelbon, like Hamels, has been the topic of trade rumors since spring training, and it seems like the Phillies were zeroing in on a pair of potential partners, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Chicago Cubs, before those talks stalled.

According to FOXSports' Ken Rosenthal, the Phillies are willing to eat "a significant portion of his contract" but a deal is not imminent:

The Phils have engaged in recent trade discussions with both Blue Jays and Cubs about Papelbon, according to major-league sources. No deal with either club appears close; the talks are at an “impasse,” one source said.

Papelbon, 34, is guaranteed more than $8 million for the rest of this season, and his $13 million option for next season will vest if he finishes 26 more games; he has finished 22 thus far.

The trade talks hinge on a sliding scale. The Phillies are willing to pay a large percentage of Papelbon’s remaining money to land better prospects. The Jays and Cubs want to pay as little as possible in both dollars and players.  []

Of course, there's that pesky no-trade clause that could mess it all up. But Papelbon seems willing to waive that in order to pitch for the Jays. Here's what he told's Jim Salisbury this spring:

"Yes, Toronto, interests me -- if it interests Ruben," he said. "I know some of the guys on their coaching staff. They’re a good team. If Ruben can do a deal with them, I’d be interested."  []

And when it comes to the Cubs, well, they just signed righty Rafael Soriano to a minor-league deal on Monday. While that may lower their offer to the Phillies, it doesn't take them completely out of the running for Papelbon, according to Rosenthal:

The Cubs, in fact, signed Soriano in part because they did not want to get left without either him or Papelbon. The team, trying to build as many late-inning options as possible, no longer is locked into Hector Rondon as its closer.


The sense among some in the industry, though, is that the Phillies would prefer to deal with the Blue Jays – perhaps because the Jays would offer better terms, perhaps because the Phillies want Papelbon out of the National League.  []

What would those better terms be? Corey Seidman of went back through similar trades made in the last few years to try to nail down what the Phillies can expect in return for their veteran closer.

Odds are, they're not going to get anyone ready to make an immediate impact at the big league level, which is fine since the Phillies are a few years away from fielding a winning team. But they have to get something. 

Failing to move both Papelbon and Hamels would all but secure Amaro's firing. So as the deadline rapidly approaches -- it's 50 days (roughly seven weeks) from now -- it'll bee interesting to see which pieces the Phillies are able to move. 

When those deals are done, and you're left watching a pitching staff that looks something like this, you'll know the team has hit rock bottom.

There's at least some solace in that. There will be nowhere else to go but up.