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A buyer's guide to the Philadelphia Phillies: Cole Hamels

We're still a month away from the thick of the flurry of deals that always occurs in advance of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Right now, teams are still focused on getting their draft picks signed, a process that will finish two weeks before the deadline, thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Because the Phillies are 9.5 games out of first place and four games under .500 and trailing a slew of teams for the two Wild Card spots, the possibility exists that they end up dealing away one or more of their attractive pieces in order to stockpile for the future. The bottom would have to completely fall out for that to happen, but the bottom falling out isn't out of the question.

Over the next few weeks, we'll write plenty about the various issues that will affect the Phillies' deadline decision makings. But first, we need to get a firm handle on the return the Phillies should expect should they decide to deal.

When you really look at the situation, you'll see that the likely choice that Ruben Amaro Jr. will face is not whether to buy or sell, but whether to buy or stay put. The reason? The Phillies just don't have the kind of chips that would land them a package of players that offers a definitive facelift for the franchise.

When you look at the past performance of the trade market, you can organize each potential trade chip into a category.

Here is how I define them:

Level I - A first division top-of-the-rotation starter or first division middle-of-the-order hitter who is under club control beyond the current season, with their actual value a mixture of their performance on the field, their annual salary, and the number of years before they hit free agency. Think Cliff Lee or Roy Oswalt or Hunter Pence before they were traded to the Phillies.

Usual asking price: A Top 50 prospect plus two or three other players that includes either a Top 100 prospect, a near-major-league ready pitcher, or a young high-ceiling prospect.

Level II - A top-of-the-rotation starter who will be a free agent after the season. Think C.C. Sabathia before he was traded to the Brewers or Cliff Lee before he was traded to the Rangers. Or a young, controllable starter who is not a projected top-of-the-rotation guy.

Usual asking price: A Top 50 prospect, plus two or three lesser prospects that are fringe organizational Top 10 prospects.

Level III - A first division middle-of-the-order hitter who will be a free agent after the season. Think Carlos Beltran before he was traded to the Giants or Mark Teixeira before he was traded to the Angels. Also falling into this category are top-of-the-order hitters who are under control beyond the current season.

Usual asking price: A Top 50 prospect, a near-major-league-ready piece, or a combination of solid but not elite prospects.

Level IV - A first division back-of-the-bullpen, strikeout arm or first division middle-of-the-rotation starter who is under control beyond the current season or a first division top-of-the-order hitter who will be a free agent after the season.

Usual asking price: A good, perhaps fringe Top 100 prospect, or a combination that includes two solid prospects (usually among an organization's Top 10).

Level V - Level IV players who will be free agents after the season.

Usual asking price: A solid prospect outside or on the fring of the Org's Top 10 or combination of lesser prospect.

Level VI - Everybody else.

Usual asking price: Salary relief, spare parts

Here is how I rate the attractiveness of the potential trade chips in the Phillies' organization:

1. Cole Hamels (Level II): A bona fide No. 1 starter, the kind of pitcher who can turn an above average team into a playoff team (see C.C. Sabathia with the Brewers in 2008), a good team into a contending team (see Roy Oswalt with the Phillies in 2010), and a very good team into a title favorite (see Cliff Lee with the Phillies in 2009).

2. Hunter Pence (Level I/II): He is not a centerpiece player, but he reaches base, hits for power, and is under club control through next season, three things that figure to be in short supply this year.

3. Vance Worley (Level II/III): He is young, he isn't arbitration eligible until after next season, and he has had a damn fine start to his career. How high his stock is will depend on whether the bone chip and elbow inflammation he has suffered from becomes a problem again.

4. Shane Victorino (Level IV): Plenty of teams could use a center fielder who can lead off and hit with decent power, but he will be a free agent at the end of the season.

5. Trevor May (Top 50 prospect): Already a Top 75 prospect according to Baseball America, the right-hander has drawn positive reviews for his performance at Double-A Reading.

6. Domonic Brown (near-major-league-ready): Plenty of scouts still like what they see and think that Brown has suffered from a bout of Triple-A-itis.

7. Joe Blanton (Level V/VI): The market for his services will depend a lot on how he performs over this next month. After posting a 2.96 ERA in his first eight starts, he has allowed at least five runs in each of his last five. A free agent at the end of the season who will be owed somewhere in the neighborhood of $3.5 million at the deadline.

8. Jim Thome (Level VI): He has given talent evaluators reason to believe that he can still contribute in a DH role. But his back is an issue.

9. Ty Wigginton (Level VI): A low-budget American League team looking for a cheap bone to throw to its fan base could have some use for a right-handed DH/bench type who has some power.

Off the board: Carlos Ruiz isn't worth discussing because of the value the Phillies place on his game-calling. Jimmy Rollins has 10 and 5 rights, which means he can refuse any trade, and there is no reason to think he wouldn't do so, even if someone was willing to take on his contract. Placido Polanco isn't likely to garner much interest because of his health issues.

EDIT, 12:05 p.m. -- There was some question about Cliff Lee in the comments section. Lee can block trades to all but nine teams, which would likely block any possible move. That clause could be waived, but seeing as though Lee took less money to come to Philly, it's hard to imagine him OKing a deal to the Yankees or Red Sox or Dodgers, who are the only three contenders I can think of who would be able to accomodate his salary. Besides, the Phillies signed Lee for a reason less than two years ago, he has pitched at the level they expected him to pitch, so I don't see why they would all of a sudden turn around and try to deal him.

Hamels, clearly, is the player who could most impact a postseason race, which means he is the player who can likely garner the biggest return. Below is a look at how his season compares to the ones Lee and Sabathia were having at the time they were traded away just months before free agency, as well as a look at the players they garnered.

Lee return, along with reliever Mark Lowe:

Sabathia return:

The two deals were similar in that they both included a power-hitting first baseman ranked in the Top 25 of the Baseball America 100 that season. But none of the other five players in the two deals were ranked in the organization's Top 10 by Baseball America before the season. Both deals included a player with a pitching tool that could fill a role on a big league staff, supplemented by players without much projectability.

Neither Smoak nor LaPorta has come close to living up to his hype thus far. Beavan is the quintessential command/control pitcher that a second-division team can pitch at the back of its rotation in the hopes of getting some cheap production. He has made 12 starts this year with an ERA in the 5's. None of the other players have done much of anything.

Factor in the production the Phillies have gotten out of the prospects they landed in the head-scratching Cliff Lee deal, and you'll see why it might be better to err on the side of hoping for a second-half run than selling off.

At later dates, we'll continue to take a look at the other pieces the Phillies have available.