To say that starting pitcher Cole Hamels of the Philadelphia Phillies is having a good season would be an understatement. He's tied for the major league lead in wins with eight, is second in the NL with 72 strikeouts, and eighth in the NL with a 2.43 ERA. In addition, his WHIP of 1.01 is good for seventh in the NL.
To put it honestly, Hamels has been stellar this season.
However, there are a couple of interesting factors surrounding the Phillies' best starting pitcher this year. Hamels is a free agent after the season and will likely be the most coveted pitcher on the market, if not the most treasured player hitting free agency in the coming offseason. Whether the Phillies will be willing to pay his asking price, which could be historic for pitchers, is one of the biggest questions looming for other teams potentially interested in bringing Hamels into their organizations.
The more pressing issue right now, at least, is that the Phillies are having a subpar season. Although their 27-25 record leaves them just three games out of first place, the Phils are in last in the NL East. If the Phillies don't get to the top of the standings anytime soon, they could be sellers at the trade deadline, which could mean that Hamels would be available in a trade. And while it'd be a large deal, some teams could be able to make that deal.
Should the Phillies fall out of contention, here's a look at five teams who have the assets to make a trade and could use the Phillies' left-handed ace to bolster their rotation.
Why wouldn't the Yankees be in the bidding?
Yes, it seems as though the New York Yankees are in on almost every big free agent. Cole Hamels will be no exception.
When the Yankees lost out on Cliff Lee two years ago, they lost out on their biggest target and didn't really have another lefty to pair with CC Sabathia in the rotation. Hamels could be that guy.
The Yankees are almost always playoff contenders. And while they sit at 27-23 right now, a game and a half out of first place in the AL East, they will surely make a playoff push. But their biggest problem? Their pitching. The Yanks' team ERA is 4.13, good for 19th in the majors. That's just flat-out awful.
Additionally, the Yankees have the sixth-fewest innings pitched in baseball at 442.1 for their entire staff, have no complete games on the season, and have the fifth-fewest quality starts at 20. Hamels could help the Yankees in all of those departments.
As for a return, the Phillies could net a Manny Banuelos and/or Dellin Betances in this deal, plus a positional top prospect and another third top or middle prospect of their choice. At this point in time, Banuelos would likely be the better choice, but if they could net both Banuelos and Betances in a deal, that's a good return.
A Hamels deal to the Bombers could benefit both sides if the stars align...but that's a big if.
Another team with pitching issues this year.
The Boston Red Sox are in last in the AL East with a 26-25 record. Like the Phillies, though, they're only three games out of first place.
What the Red Sox need more than anything is another impact starting pitcher. Having lost Jonathan Papelbon to the Phillies this past offseason, the bullpen was weakened immensely, and with Daniel Bard moving to the rotation, the Red Sox 'pen lost their top two arms.
If you thought the Yankees were bad, wait until you see the Sox's stats: they are third to last in ERA in the MLB at 4.56. And while their other stats are a bit better than the Yanks—they have more innings out of their guys in addition to three more quality starts—Boston is ranked 19th in strikeouts with 364 and are seventh-worst in the majors with 174 walks.
Jon Lester, usually a major league ace, has not been himself this year. Then there's Josh Beckett, who's had an interesting year to say the least. But behind him? There's Clay Buchholz, who isn't that good anymore, Felix Doubront, and Bard. Nothing special.
If the Red Sox want any hope at postseason play, they'll need a proven starting pitcher. Cole Hamels would be the best player for them. And while Will Middlebrooks might not be available, he could be the only piece the Phillies would force the Red Sox to give up...a steep price to pay, but one that would be worth it.
I'm done with the AL East after this, I promise.
The Toronto Blue Jays are having one of their better seasons in recent memory. They sit at 27-24, fourth in the AL East, but are only two games out of first place, which is good by any means.
And although the Blue Jays have a decent rotation fronted by Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow, they do have their struggles and are often inconsistent, especially this year. Toronto is 18th in team ERA this season at 4.12 and are last in walks, having given a free pass to 207 batters. They have 28 quality starts—which isn't bad at all—but sit at 20th in the majors with just 366 strikeouts.
The Jays made a push for Japanese superstar starting pitcher Yu Darvish this past offseason. And while they came close, they lost out on their posting bid to the Texas Rangers, who ultimately inked him to a five-year deal. Having missed out on their top target, the Blue Jays were left without a true ace to lead their staff.
If the Jays wanted Hamels, it probably wouldn't be too hard. The two teams have made a handful of trades over the past few seasons and the Jays' farm system is stocked with talent. Whether the Phillies reacquired Travis d'Arnaud and/or Anthony Gose, or a few other completely different players, this could be a match made in heaven. Toronto gets the ace they've lacked since Roy Halladay, and the Phillies get some top prospects. Sounds good to me.
The Detroit Tigers, other than Justin Verlander, haven't exactly been the Detroit Tigers. Sitting at 24-27, they are good for third in the disastrous AL Central, five games out of first place.
Aside from Verlander, the Tigers really don't have that many special pitchers. Jose Valverde isn't the pitcher he was last year, and guys like Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello aren't as good as they were last year. And Doug Fister, one of the team's most reliable starters in the second half of the 2011 season, has been plagued with injuries for most of 2012.
The Tigers aren't deep in their farm system, but they have assets that the Phillies might like. Jacob Turner is still considered a top pitching prospect by many and third baseman Nick Castellanos would be a perfect fit for the Phillies' future plans. As for Hamels, the Tigers need a more reliable left-handed starter, and though Drew Smyly has been a pleasant surprise for them, the Tigers need a more proven southpaw at the front of the rotation.
Detroit's team ERA this season is 4.19, which is dreadful. Additionally, their innings count is at 440.0, which is in the bottom five in baseball, and they have 27 quality starts, which sits in the middle of the pack. If not for Verlander, this team's pitching would be much, much worse, but a guy like Hamels could instantly make it that much better.
Castellanos, a Turner type and another top prospect for Hamels? Works out for both parties.
Probably one of baseball's biggest surprises this season, the Los Angeles Dodgers just keep on going.
Despite virtually playing without superstar Matt Kemp since April (and they'll have to play most of June without him, too), the Dodgers have certainly held their own. They have the best record in baseball at 32-19 and their combination of offense and defense has been extremely successful.
Their pitching isn't as good as their offense might be, but with Clayton Kershaw leading the way you don't have to be perfect. And though behind Kershaw the Dodgers' rotation is lackluster on paper, it isn't terrible by any means. Their team ERA is second in baseball at 3.20, their innings count of 456.1 is in the middle of the pack, and they're fourth in strikeouts with 417.
Their rotation, though, could be not only better with Hamels, it could be scary. Kershaw-Hamels at the top? That's filthy. Baseball's best slider paired with baseball's best changeup would be a sight to see. Chad Billingsley, who hasn't lived up to his expectations over the years, and Chris Capuano, who's bound to regress, have been good, but Hamels is an upgrade any day of the week.
If the Dodgers were willing to part with a top prospect like a Zach Lee, Hamels could be attainable. The Phillies would get their value for Hamels, and Hamels would get to pitch in his home state of California. This might be the smartest option for the Phillies, because if they don't trade Hamels, the no longer bankrupt Dodgers will be at the front of the pack trying to sign Hamels to a contract.