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St. Louis Cardinals Trade Rumors: Cole Hamels

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News emerged Monday evening that the Cardinals were among a couple of teams interested in trading for Cole Hamels after word got out that he was being made available by the Philadelphia Phillies.

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This Chris Cotillo tweet came across my feed last night and was the first I'd heard that Hamels had been made available to trade:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p><a href="">#Phillies</a> have reportedly made Cole Hamels available, and the <a href="">#Dodgers</a> are interested. Story from <a href="">@Justinmillar1</a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) <a href="">July 28, 2014</a></blockquote>

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The linked article, from Justin Miller at SBNation's MLBDailyDish notes that the a confirmed report from a Phillies official that they are asking for "four or five top prospects" in return for Hamels, which would likely make  the trade one of the more lopsided in recent memory should it actually go through.

Cardinals beat writer Derrick Goold had this to say regarding a potential Hamels' trade:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Cole Hamels, whose wife has STL connections, does not have <a href="">#Cardinals</a> on list of teams he can block trade to, but has $96m remaining (1/2)</p>&mdash; Derrick Goold (@dgoold) <a href="">July 28, 2014</a></blockquote>

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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Hamels, like so many of those <a href="">#Phillies</a> players, has that wallet-bursting buyout and vesting option for final year. Buyout: $6m for 2019.</p>&mdash; Derrick Goold (@dgoold) <a href="">July 28, 2014</a></blockquote>

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Hamels, of course, is married to Jefferson City native and former Survivor contestant Heidi Stroebel so that's where the Missouri "ties" come in I suppose, although it doesn't seem like she's spent a lot of time in the St. Louis area and considering the relative distance between the capital city and St. Louis, one wouldn't think that would be enough to sway the decision since the couple currently lives in Newport Beach, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia and have been active in the community there.

The point about the contract is a good one though, as the buyout clause, while less than half of Cliff Lee's 2016 monstrosity, is still a considerable issue for most teams.  I had a Twitter conversation regarding both Lester and Hamels trade rumors with MLB Network Radio's Mike Ferrin last night and here are his thoughts regarding Hamels to St. Louis:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p><a href="">@emjohnson17</a> <a href="">@vivaelbirdos</a> Oh, I’m sure they are. I actually love the idea of Hamels for StL. That $$ doesn’t scare me. Big Hamels fan.</p>&mdash; Mike Ferrin (@MikeFerrinSXM) <a href="">July 29, 2014</a></blockquote>

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Accepting that the Cardinals would be willing to pick up all of Hamels' remaining $96M, what should John Mozeliak be willing to part with in order to acquire him?

One thing is for sure: It certainly won't be 4 or 5 prospects.

There's a bit of a balance that must be struck here between the potential costs for David Price and Cole Hamels:

  • Price is not signed long term, will likely cost a similar amount in 2015 as Hamels, and would certainly turn down any qualifying offer at the end of 2015 to pursue a long term contract via free agency, allowing a team to recoup a top 50 draft pick for 2016 as part of the return for him.
  • Hamels is signed long term, at a somewhat reasonable rate given his talent (basically making just slightly more than Adam Wainwright on his remaining years, and we'd all agree that Wainwright was a steal), but he's not quite as good as David Price and is also a fair bit older.  So while the club dealing for Hamels is getting more guaranteed service from him, they are also getting more downside risk as well.
I don't think that it's a coincidence that the Phillies have been denying trade rumors surrounding Hamels until just about the time that David Price seemed to go off the market and Ian Kennedy missed a start with an injury. Given how tight the pitching market is, that makes a lot of sense from their point of view: They might be able to maximize the return for Hamels right now and then go about dealing Finkel favorite Cliff Lee via waivers in August. Making both available right now would actually hurt the value of either, so it makes sense that Hamels is the guy being dangled as he represents the best possible value in return.

Hamels has been one of the most consistent starters in baseball the last 6 seasons, posting 3.5 or better fWAR and 30+ starts in every season since 2008 and on pace for another 4.5 fWAR season in 2014. He's never topped 5 fWAR in any season, however, which is something Cliff Lee and David Price have done on a regular basis in that span. so while Hamels is certainly an ace, he's not the uber-ace that the other two have been.

Oliver projects Hamels to be worth roughly 13.6 fWAR from 2015-2018, which is the end of his guaranteed contract when he'll be 34 years of age.  That works out to right around $7.05M per WAR, which is a tick above the league average for free agent $$$ per win given the current 2013-2014 free agent market valuations. But that's not including his 2019 vesting option, which has a $6M buyout, a $19M team option, or a $24M team option if Hamels throws 400 innings in 2017-2018, 200 innings in 2018, and doesn't end the 2018 season on the DL.  I think we should name that contract the "Amaro Special" since it's similar in nature to the option years on Chase Utley's deal.

If you could sign Cole Hamels to that number, you would.  But the question is whether you would give up cost-controlled prospect value for him, and if so, what's the right price?

To me, any time you make a trade for a veteran like Hamels, you're nearly always going to be overpaying as the selling team likely views the situation as favorable to them: They have what you want, now pony up and pay for it. Thing is, when the player in question is a pitcher (risky), signed to a long term deal with a limited no-trade clause (riskier), and his cost is projected to be above what you would pay for a win on the open market given current prices, it doesn't make much sense for the buyer to not drive a hard bargain.

You certainly wouldn't give up 4 or 5 top prospects for that pitcher and if that's the asking price, the Cardinals should walk away.  However, if you could snag Hamels for, say, Marco Gonzales, Alex Reyes, and Stephen Piscotty, then I think that's something the Cardinals should strongly look at doing.  I don't think that's near enough given what the Phillies are asking for, but that's about the limit of what I'd be willing to offer.

What say you, VEB?