New York Yankees Rumors: Is Cole Hamels or Matt Cain a Better Target?

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistJanuary 5, 2012

In an article written earlier today by Tyler Kepner of the New York Times, he suggested that the reason the Yankees have been so quiet this offseason is because they could be waiting until next winter or perhaps even this season's trade deadline to make a play for free-agent-to-be starters Matt Cain and Cole Hamels.

Both pitchers rank among the top starters in the game, and will be headed for a huge payday in 2013, but who makes more sense of the Yankees to go after?

Hamels is in the final year of a three-year, $20.5 million extension he signed following his postseason heroics in 2008 when he won both NLCS MVP and World Series MVP.

A 28-year-old left-hander, Hamels has a career line of 74-54, 3.39 ERA, 8.1 K/9 and is coming off arguably the best season of his career.

Somewhat over-shadowed by the play of rotation mates Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, Hamels went 14-9 with a career-best 2.79 ERA and ridiculous 0.986 WHIP as he posted the fifth highest WAR among NL pitchers.

Not only has he been stellar during the regular season of his six-year big league career, but he has stepped his game up in the postseason going 7-4, 3.09 ERA, 77 Ks in 13 playoff starts.

Meanwhile, Cain is in the final year of a three-year, $27.5 million extension, and he is set to make $15 million this coming season.

A 28-year-old right-hander, Cain was the Giants first-round pick in the 2002 draft out of high school, and he made his big league debut in 2005 at the age of 20, going 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA in seven starts.

He has only gotten better since, and holds a career line of 69-73, 3.35 ERA, 7.4 K/9, and he has proven to be as durable as they come, making at least 31 starts and pitching at least 190 innings in each of the past six seasons.

Both players could very well wind up being extended by their current teams, but there is also reason to believe they could be moving on as well.

In the case of Hamels, the Phillies are a team built to win now, but they are also a very old team with every starting position player aside from Hunter Pence (29) and whoever winds up in left field over the age of 30. Their rotation is no younger, as Halladay (35) and Lee (33) aren't getting any younger.

The talent that trading Hamels at the deadline would bring could go a long way towards providing the Phillies with the ability to sustain the winning atmosphere they have created.

The Giants situation with Cain is another story entirely, as they are currently stuck with not one but two young right-handed stars.

Tim Lincecum is set to hit free agency following the 2013 season, and while the team has been working on an extension the two sides are still far apart. While some may argue that Cain is every bit as good as Lincecum, chances are the team will make re-signing the two-time Cy Young winner their top priority.

That brings us to the Yankees, who seemed destined to make runs at C.J. Wilson, Mark Buehrle, Yu Darvish and Edwin Jackson but have instead settled for re-signing Freddy Garcia.

That leaves their rotation for 2012 as C.C. Sabathia, Ivan Nova, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes and Garcia, a similar group to the one that was bounced out of the ALDS last season.

However, the team does have two of the best pitching prospects in baseball in Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, who could not only see time in the rotation this year but give the team two of the most coveted trade chips in all of baseball.

The market has been set with the deals of Mat Latos and Gio Gonzalez bringing back four prospects, and it is conceivable that both Hamels and Cain would be worth an even richer prospect package than what the Padres and Athletics received.

In the case of the Giants, the team would no doubt look to acquire both Banuelos and Betances in the deal, as they dealt top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran last year and have very little in the way starting pitching talent in their farm system.

The Phillies on the other hand are stacked with top tier young starting pitchers, and while they would still likely look to acquire one of the two pitchers, they would likely also turn their attention to prospects like 3B Dante Bichette Jr. and C Gary Sanchez as they look to find replacements for Placido Polanco and Carlos Ruiz moving forward.

For the first time in a long time, the Yankees farm system is one of the team's strengths, and what prospects the Giants and Phillies would look to acquire in return could very well be the deciding factor in which of the two the Yankees target.

Time will tell if this is in fact the Yankees plan, and opening the 2012 season with their current rotation could very well cost the team a playoff spot. On the other hand, dealing for Hamels or Cain at the deadline could be just enough to push them over the top this coming season, and set them up to again be AL favorites moving forward. We shall see.


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