The Philadelphia Phillies aren't going to be very good. That's a nice way of saying they're going to be horrendous. When Fangraphs' Carson Cistulli tweeted out the preview of the ZiPS Wins Above Replacement depth chart for the Phillies, it was like a cruising by a car accident. I paused while scrolling through my feed, gasped, and couldn't look away. So horrific were the Phillies' projections. See for yourself:
This is what remains of the 101-win team general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. put together in 2011. It's hard to believe the Phils were a juggernaut as recently as then. More difficult still to believe that they were the prohibitive favorites to win the National League Pennant until the red-hot Wild Card winners knocked them off in five games. It was difficult to recognize at the time, but that series represented a passing of the torch of sorts. The aging Phillies collapsed beneath the weight of injuries, age-related decline, and poor front-office decisions while the Cardinals soared despite injuries, thanks to young up-and-comers and savvy front-office movies.
As Cistulli's graphic makes clear, the Phillies really have one major trade chip left to try to jumpstart their rebuilding process: starter Cole Hamels. That's not to say the Phillies shouldn't or aren't trying to trade the zombified corpse of Ryan Howard, Jonathan Papelbon and his 92-mph fastball, Cliff Lee, or Chase Utley. It's just that none of those players can really be considered major nowadays. Philadelphia won't get too terribly much in a trade for any of those players even though each of them is likely more valuable to a contender than the Phillies (except for Howard, who isn't of worth to any baseball club at this point).
2015 will be Hamels's age-31 season. The southpaw has four guaranteed years remaining on the contract he signed with Philadelphia. He'll earn $22.5 million in each of those seasons, $90 million overall. Then there's the 2019 option. It vests at $24 million if Hamels (1) tops 400 innings combined between 2017 and 2018 and (2) does not spend any time on the disabled list in 2018 due to either a shoulder or elbow injury. Should Hamels fail to trigger the option by meeting those criteria, the option becomes a club option at $20 million with a $6 million buyout that pushes the overall salary the lefty is guaranteed to $96 million—though he could earn as much as $114 million over five years. That's a lot of coin.
Amaro Jr. has reportedly been shopping Hamels all offseason and demanding a king's ransom in return for assigning Hamels' $96, $110, or $114 million contract. You'll recall the Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi report from back in early January that the St. Louis Cardinals had expressed interest in Hamels (among others). General manager John Mozeliak checking in on Hamels resulted in a stare down, per Jim Salisbury of CSN Philadelphia, due to the Phillies' high asking price. Mozeliak didn't blink; neither has any other interested club's GM.
As the report date for pitchers and catchers nears, Salisbury is again reporting from the Hamels beat:
How many teams have shown interest in the left-hander this offseason?
"Eight teams have kicked the tires," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. told CSNPhilly.com on Wednesday.
How many teams have made offers?
"Real offers?" Amaro said.
Were the Cardinals one of the club's to make what Amaro Jr. considers a "real offer"? Who knows. I have no firsthand knowledge. But if I had to make a bet, I'd place my chips on the Cardinals only having "kicked the tires" on Hamels, given Salisbury's reporting on the steep price Philadelphia is seeking for the lefty.
Regardless, it's an intriguing gambit on Amaro Jr.'s part. With a club Baseball Prospectus projects to win 70 games (the lowest in the NL) and Fangraphs forecasts to total 67 (the least in the majors), he is apparently content to gamble that, unlike the $25 million Lee a year ago, Hamels will stay healthy through the end of July and a team desperate for starting pitching will give him the horde of young talent he needs to help rebuild the Phillies. With the aged John Lackey, health question marks in Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha, and Carlos Martinez poised to spend his first full season in the major-league rotation, that team might yet be the Cardinals. It just isn't right now, with a week until pitchers and catchers officially report and the rotation's health and workload questions asked but not answered.