July 17, 2015
From almost everything we hear about a potential Cole Hamels trade, there seems to be one common theme: The Phillies value the 31-year-old lefty much higher than all of his suitors. That pesky little sticking point, along with the team’s murky front office situation, is why ESPN’s Jayson Stark believes there is now less than a 50 percent chance Hamels gets dealt before the July 31st deadline.
Of course, there is also the valuation on the other end of the deal. Studying baseball prospects is something that takes a bunch of time, attention, and nuance. Matt Winkelman of Phillies Minor Thoughts wrote an interesting piece last year in regard to trading Hamels, citing a couple of studies that generally found there were significant drop-offs after the Top-10 and Top-25 prospects in baseball at any given time. Here is a little bit of what he wrote:
In this way we greatly overvalue the label of Top 100 prospect. Yes the #90 prospect is better than the #190 prospect, but we often view #190 as not a prospect in our views on a farm system. To correct this we need to understand the gap that exists in how that kind of prospect is valued. It shows us that just adding players to a trade won’t bring you to the value of a single stud prospect, but that the difference in players on the lower end of the spectrum might be more interchangeable.
This is admittedly pretty arbitrary, but let’s operate as if the baseline goal for the Phillies in any prospective Hamels trade should be one star prospect (which we’ll loosely define as Top-25). The rest is also critically important, but the Phillies should ideally want at least one guy who they can hang their hat on. Selecting the best available player is an inexact science even for the well informed, so a lot of times there will be disagreement on whether or not a prospect/combination of prospects fall into this criteria.
Even with all of the uncertainty, general managers don’t want to just give away those elite types of prospects. Of the teams who are most often said to be in the hunt to secure Hamels’ services, let’s take a look at some of their situations and the respective farm systems’ top… men. I’m going to use Baseball America’s and ESPN Insider’s recent Top-50 prospect lists as the guideline.
*Quick clarification: Bregman, Happ, and Tate were drafted last month, so they likely couldn't be traded until next summer (although there are some ways around that).
Top Prospects: 3B/SS Corey Seager (ESPN #1, BA #1) LHP, Julio Urias (ESPN #4, BA #4), 2B Hector Olivera (ESPN NR, BA #16), RHP Jose De Leon (ESPN #20, BA #20)
Comments: The rich might only get richer with Seager and Urias. Unsurprisingly, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman recently wrote that the Dodgers “seem to remain adamant” about keeping both of them. That makes sense, as those guys are the cream of the crop in all of minor league baseball. Los Angeles has a major need for Hamels, as its starting rotation declines rapidly after the frightening 1-2 punch of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. The latter can also opt out of his contract at the end of the season, and why wouldn’t he? Righty Grant Holmes is another name to potentially keep an eye on down in the minors. A free-spending club, the Dodgers don’t seem like a team that the Phillies could leverage taking on more of Hamels’ contract to get better players in return.
Top Prospects: OF Brett Phillips (ESPN #35, BA #21), RHP Mark Appel (ESPN #41, BA #39), SS Alex Bregman (ESPN #29, BA NR)
Comments: Houston, a half-game behind the Angels in the AL West, is on Hamels’ no-trade list. There have been rumblings about him not wanting to join the up-and-coming Astros, which he denied (but only kinda, sorta). Maybe they could sell him on the whole “no state income tax” thing if a deal is on the table. Appel is a former top overall pick that has experienced trouble commanding his stuff in the minors. Phillips hit .320/.379/.588 in the hitter-friendly California League (High-A) this season before earning a promotion. Unlike the Dodgers, this is a team that could potentially sweeten the offer if the Phillies could pony up some of Hamels’ money. The Astros also have many former top prospects playing for their big league club that could be dealt (not Carlos Correa, though, he’s going to be damn good). A couple of them even came over from the Phillies in the Hunter Pence trade.
Top Prospects: 3B/OF Joey Gallo (ESPN #5, BA #3), OF Nomar Mazara (ESPN #6, BA #34), RHP Jake Thompson (ESPN HM, BA #49), RHP Dillon Tate (ESPN #46, BA NR), C Jorge Alfaro (ESPN #49, BA NR)
Comments: Even if we remove Gallo from the equation, this seems like an intriguing trade partner if they’re interested. Before the season, Heyman reported that the two sides were in exploratory discussions on Hamels. The Rangers are reportedly one of nine teams that Hamels left off his no-trade list, meaning the Phillies don’t need his permission to deal him to Texas. The Rangers are currently 6.5 games back in the AL West, but this type of move would also be intended for next year when Hamels could team up with Yu Darvish, out for this season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. By all accounts, the 20-year-old Mazara would be the type of player that could headline a Hamels trade if the Rangers are willing to part with him. That's a big if, though. Most scouting reports include some form of raving about his hitting, which includes a power element.
Top Prospects: C Kyle Schwarber (ESPN #10, BA #6), SS Gleyber Torres (ESPN #30 BA #28), OF Billy McKinney (ESPN #47, BA #30), 2B Ian Happ (ESPN HM, BA NR)
Comments: Schwarber was the MVP of the Futures Game, and my bet is the Phillies wouldn’t mind him driving J.P. Crawford in while wearing red and white. While his position might be a little uncertain, the guy can absolutely rake (.323/.430/.591 split between AA and AAA). Schwarber was just called up to the majors, and it’s pretty questionable if a player of his reputation will actually on the table. The Cubs are a team in the thick of the playoff race, leading the pack for the second wild card spot by a single game. Heading into the season, Chicago was the proud owner of the best farm system in baseball, so they have plenty of secondary pieces that could entice the Phillies. Like the Dodgers, Rangers and Blue Jays, the Cubs were reported by Stark to be interested in Jonathan Papelbon before Ruben Amaro, Jr. (again, reportedly) received a call from upstairs that momentarily put the kibosh on any of those discussions.
Top Prospects: LHP Daniel Norris (ESPN #15, BA #18), OF Dalton Pompey (ESPN NR, BA #29), RHP Jeff Hoffman (ESPN NR, BA #33)
Comments: The Blue Jays somehow have a losing record with a +82 run differential, which is amazing. This is another team that has been strongly linked to Papelbon, and they could really use pitching help in both the rotation and bullpen. Papelbon will go anywhere to get out of Philly, but there are major question marks about whether Hamels would allow a trade to the Blue Jays. Norris and Pompey are both players that already have experience/failure at the major league level and then were sent back down. The former could headline a Hamels deal due to his great raw stuff. Devon Travis, the Blue Jays’ everyday second baseman and only 24, is another name that gets brought up in rumors from time to time.
Top Prospects: 3B Rafael Devers (ESPN #8, BA #15), 2B Yoan Moncada (ESPN #11, BA #11), OF Manuel Margot (ESPN #14, BA #24), LHP Henry Owens (ESPN #37, BA #47), SS Javier Guerra (ESPN #48, BA NR), LHP Brian Johnson (ESPN NR, BA #38)
Comments: How are these guys still only six games out of a playoff spot? They’re reportedly still refusing to put Mookie Betts or Blake Swihart on the table, but the Sawx do have some other solid prospects. In particular, a masher like Devers and toolsy center fielder like Margot are plenty intriguing. I feel like we’ve already talked ad nauseam about Boston, though.
For the Phillies, it has to be very difficult trying to trade away your best asset. They’re not strictly adhering to a chart that says, “We need one 25-50 prospect and another one in the 51-75 range." There also could be another team that swoops in at the last minute with an unexpected killer offer. It only takes one.
Still, considering everything we’ve read about Amaro, Pat Gillick, and Andy MacPhail and their approach, you can bet at least one of these names will be in the Phillies’ system if Hamels is playing for one of these six teams in August.
Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann