CLEARWATER, Fla. - I said this a couple of days ago, but it's worth reiterating in the wake of yesterday's news that Cliff Lee will attempt to pitch through a flexor tendon tear: What's done is done. The Phillies cannot panic and trade Cole Hamels for the best offer currently on the table, because those offers will get better. They have to get better. Maybe not to the point where the Phillies would like, but certainly better than a month ago, when Ruben Amaro Jr. said he'd received bids from four teams, none of which came close to his asking price.
The key points to remember:
1 Injuries happen. The Phillies' lone blue-chip commodity could get hurt, but the odds of that happening are a whole lot lower than the odds of it happening to a blue-chip commodity on one of the 20 or so teams that built their rosters with the intent of contending for the postseason. Already, the Blue Jays and Cardinals have lost key pieces to their rotation.
If history is any indication, as it was with Lee, the elbow of the Yankees' Masahiro Tanaka is a ticking bomb that will go off at some point. Over in Cardinals camp, 33-year-old Adam Wainwright is already nicked up.
When the Phillies evaluated their first batch of offers, there was very little market pressure to spur demand. Opposing general managers knew that Hamels would remain on the market. They had plenty of other options to build a playoff-caliber roster. They knew they'd always have Hamels as an option down the road. There was no reason for them to up their offer before necessity arrived. Well, necessity is in the process of arriving, and the aggregate necessity for a top-of-the-rotation arm on the demand side of the market will only increase. At this point, the supply side is limited to Hamels. It would be foolish of the Phillies to forfeit such a significant advantage.
2 Opening Day is when reality sets in. Think back to December 2009, when the Phillies traded Lee to the Mariners instead of keeping him in the fold to team with Roy Halladay. One of the baffling things about that move is that it seemed like they started trying to reacquire Lee the moment they shipped him out. In reality, it was a couple of months into the season that they arrived at the conclusion that, hey, they really could use another arm.
At the start of spring training, every general manager is convinced that he has put together a capable roster. But it doesn't take long for some of those general managers to realize they underestimated an area of need. The Red Sox could find themselves in that situation after a few trips through the rotation.
3 One risk the Phillies take in waiting things out is the potential that more aces hit the market. Right now, though, the only obvious candidate is the Reds' Johnny Cueto. All of the other looming free agents figure to be in the thick of a pennant chase - Doug Fister, Scott Kazmir, Mat Latos, David Price, Jeff Samardzija, Jordan Zimmermann. With the two extra wild-card spots and the lack of draft-pick compensation for rent-a-players, there is much less incentive on both sides of the market than was present 4 or 5 years ago.
4 The longer the Phillies pay Hamels, the less money remains on his contract when another team contemplates adding it to their books. By the trade deadline, the Phillies would be asking a team to take on roughly $82 million over 3 years and 2 months instead of the current $96 million over 4 years. Make no mistake: The Phillies should not let money stand in the way of a better package of prospects. Hamels is a sunk cost. Whether they are paying for him to pitch in Philadelphia or paying for him to pitch elsewhere, the end result is still going to be a historically bad season, and, in all likelihood, two or three more. The wins that Hamels provides are meaningless. Might as well get something out of the deal.
5 There is one thing the Phillies should consider with regard to Lee, but it does not involve Hamels. It involves Ken Giles, and Jake Diekman, and any other young pitcher who might attract interest on the trade market. Arms are fragile things. Guys are throwing harder than ever before but the ligaments and bones absorbing all of that force aren't any stronger than they were when 95 mph was the exception and not the norm. Maybe Giles and Diekman will be healthy and effective 4 years from now when their contributions might pay some playoff dividends. But if you want to talk about odds, you should sit down and think about those ones.