COULD COLE Hamels become the second prominent Phillies player this month to have to begin a search for a home in Southern California?
The Padres have had discussions about trading for the lefthanded ace, who happens to be a San Diego native, with newly acquired outfielder Wil Myers as potential bait, according to a baseball source.
The Padres have been baseball's busiest team since the winter meetings ended in San Diego earlier this month, acquiring three starting outfielders (Myers, Matt Kemp, Justin Upton) a starting catcher (Derek Norris) and a potential starting third baseman, too (Will Middlebrooks), through a series of trades in the last week.
As a rule, the Phillies' front office does not discuss possible trades or free-agent signings through the media.
A week ago, the Boston Globe reported the Padres among the teams interested in Hamels, along with the Cubs, Red Sox, Dodgers and Rangers. A potential deal involving Hamels and Myers would make some sense.
After trading Jimmy Rollins, the franchise's all-time hits leader, to the Los Angeles Dodgers, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. made it clear he's listening to offers on all of his players. Hamels has been the most heavily rumored name among Phillies players this winter, simply because he holds the most trade value, and thus, the best chance for a rebuilding team to add more than a couple of prominent pieces.
Although there's reason to be motivated to trade the aging veterans on his roster, including Rollins, Ryan Howard, Marlon Byrd and others, Amaro has said all offseason that he sits in a "sweet spot" with Hamels. The Phillies could maximize his value through trade or build their next contending team around Hamels, who turns 31 Saturday and could be under team control for as many as 5 more years.
"We can keep him and it would be great for us, and if we feel he can move us forward by moving him, that's something we can explore as well," Amaro said Friday. "We don't have any rush to move him or mandate to move him. Hopefully, he's one of those guys that will be in a Phillies uniform for a long time, but we have to explore all of our opportunities. We're not doing our organization any justice if we don't explore every opportunity to get better."
The Phillies reportedly would want two or three premium prospects in exchange for Hamels. A Padres package built around Myers would seem to be enticing.
Myers, the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year, turned 24 this month. He isn't eligible to become a free agent until after the 2019 season (read: any club that would acquire him would get a very attractive 5 years of club control, and, of course, the option to extend him beyond that, too.)
The Padres just acquired Myers on Friday. But on the same day, they also acquired Upton, a former All-Star with Atlanta and Arizona; late Thursday night, they made their trade for Kemp official, too.
Although all three players wield capable, middle-of-the-order outfield bats, none is an ideal fit in centerfield. Upton has never played center, Myers has played sparingly there (six starts in two big-league seasons), and Kemp's recent injury woes make him a better fit on one of the corners.
On Friday, San Diego manager Bud Black told reporters that Upton and Kemp would play the corners while Myers was "a possibility" in center. But the Padres' glut of outfielders also includes Cameron Maybin, Carlos Quentin, Seth Smith and Will Venable.
It seems highly unlikely all seven of those players arrive together to Peoria, Ariz., for the start of spring training in 2 months. That doesn't necessarily translate to moving one of the three players that just traded for, but, again, none of those three outfielders projects as a viable option in centerfield.
The Phillies, meanwhile, have an embarrassing lack of outfield talent both on the big-league roster and in their minor league system, too.
Among the 50 big-league outfielders to qualify for the batting title, Ben Revere (.686) and Domonic Brown (.634) ranked 43rd and 48th, respectively, in OPS. Byrd hit a career-high 25 home runs in 2014, but he turns 38 next season and is likely to be traded in the next 2 months as the Phils attempt to add younger players in their current rebuild.
Myers, a righthanded hitter, could potentially slide in for Byrd in right, ending the Phillies' 4-year search for a long-term solution for Jayson Werth, who departed as free agent after the 2010 season.
Myers, rated the fourth-best prospect 2 years ago Baseball America, hit .293 with 13 home runs and an .831 OPS in 88 games in his rookie season with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013. His numbers dropped significantly this year (.222, six home runs, .614 OPS), when he was limited to 87 games (missing all of June and July and most of August) while dealing with a wrist injury.
A former third-round pick by Kansas City, Myers was the key piece in the December 2012 trade that sent James Shields from the Rays to the Royals.
The Padres surrendered their 2014 first-round pick (shortstop Trea Turner) in order to acquire Myers this week, but still have a healthy crop of prospects they could pair with Myers if they chose to make a play for Hamels. Although clearly behind bigger-market division rivals San Francisco and Los Angeles, the Padres have made enough moves this month to climb into contention in 2015.
With a pitcher like Hamels, San Diego's rotation, which already includes All-Star Tyson Ross and veterans Andrew Cashner and Ian Kennedy (all righthanders), would become one of the more formidable staffs in the league. Without the budget of their aforementioned NL West rivals, acquiring an ace through trade might be the only way the Padres could add a true No. 1 to their rotation.
Hamels, who does not have the Padres on his no-trade list, is owed a minimum of $96 million through 2018. It's a hefty commitment, but a potential bargain when compared to what Max Scherzer is currently seeking on the open market or what Zack Greinke and David Price, among others, will look for next winter.
A curious (and possibly insignificant) sidebar to the Padres' potentially using Myers as trade bait: Yesterday afternoon, with 4 days left until Christmas, the team shop at San Diego's Petco Park had Matt Kemp and Justin Upton jerseys for sale. But they did not have any Myers jerseys available.