The first eight weeks of the baseball season have continued to shape the trade market for Phillies ace Cole Hamels.
Some developments around the majors - such as injuries to the Cardinals' and Dodgers' starting rotations - might stand to benefit the Phillies when trade discussions heat up. Others - such as the struggles of the Athletics and Brewers - may provide contending teams alternative, shorter-term options than the Phillies' top trade chip.
Also still in play is the looming free-agency class, stacked with frontline starting pitchers including Johnny Cueto, David Price, and Jordan Zimmermann. A club in the trade market for a starting pitcher this summer could ultimately decide to stand pat and address its need in free agency.
With Sunday marking exactly two months until the July 31 trade deadline, it's a fitting time to take stock of the potential market for Hamels while looking at the current situations of a few potential suitors.
The Adam Wainwright-less Cardinals make the most sense in some estimations, especially given their status as baseball's best team through the season's first two months. They could go for it all and attempt to acquire Hamels to headline their postseason rotation and then come back next season with Wainwright and Hamels atop their starting five.
While their minor-league system isn't as flush as those of the Red Sox, Dodgers, or Cubs, the Cards should still have the pieces to get a deal done. Although they are not likely to part with Carlos Martinez, who is already contributing in the major leagues, or the lefthanded Marco Gonzales, Alex Reyes is another intriguing young arm the Phillies could seek in trade discussions.
Reyes, a righthanded power pitcher, is only 20 years old with just eight starts of experience in high-A ball, but he entered the season as the Cardinals' No. 2 prospect behind Gonzales, according to Baseball America. Their best position-player prospect is Stephen Piscotty, a 24-year-old outfielder who hits more for average than power and is in triple A.
It's been a month since Wainwright tore his left Achilles tendon, and the Cardinals still entered the weekend 51/2 and 6 games ahead of the Cubs and Pirates, respectively. But since losing Wainwright they have used three pitchers - Malvern Prep graduate Tim Cooney (one start), Tyler Lyons (three starts), and Jaime Garcia (two starts) - to plug their fifth rotation spot.
Their bullpen, while boasting the NL's best ERA (2.20 going into Friday), has logged the fourth-most innings in the majors this month. Despite their success, the Cards could look for a rotation upgrade who can eat more innings and better preserve their 'pen, whether it's Hamels or someone else on the July market.
Despite losing two of their top four starters, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy, to season-ending injuries, the Dodgers entered the weekend a half-game ahead of the Giants in the NL West. Their rotation behind Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke features Mike Bolsinger, Carlos Frias, and Brett Anderson.
The Dodgers have the resources to make a run at Hamels or other pitchers - perhaps Cueto, the Reds ace, or his rotation-mate Mike Leake; Oakland's Scott Kazmir; Milwaukee's Kyle Lohse or Matt Garza; or the Phillies' Aaron Harang - who are speculated to be on the trade market. All indications are the Dodgers are unwilling to part with any of their three best young players - centerfielder Joc Pederson, shortstop Corey Seager, and lefthander Julio Urias - but their farm system is deep.
A potential deal could depend on how the Phillies view Los Angeles' other prospects, and whether the Dodgers could put together a package to satisfy the Phillies' asking price.
Ever since the winter, the Red Sox have been the most-speculated suitor for Hamels. They lack an ace - their rotation entered this weekend with a combined 4.78 ERA, the fourth-worst mark in baseball - and their farm system is among baseball's best.
But the Red Sox went into this weekend sporting a far-from-inspiring 22-26 record. And while the American League East is wide open - Boston entered Friday only three games behind the first-place Yankees - one could reason these Red Sox are more than just one elite starting pitcher away from World Series contention.
Hamels, who entered the season owed $96 million over four years with a vesting option for 2019, certainly hasn't hurt his trade stock with the way he has pitched lately. The 31-year-old lefthander took the Citizens Bank Park mound Friday night having lowered his career ERA to 3.26, the best it has been since June 6, 2006, when he was a mere three starts into his major-league career.
Which club antes up the most for his services - and whether the Phillies will accept - remains to be seen over the next two months.