The 2014 Philadelphia Phillies are in an unenviable spot, wedged between the faint hope of contention and the reality of long-term ramifications with an aging roster. Stuck in the middle of a confusing summer at Citizens Bank Park: homegrown left-handed ace Cole Hamels.
In a logical world, general manager Ruben Amaro would be wiser than to draw meaning from a recent five-game winning streak. Despite the charge, including a three-game sweep of the Braves in Atlanta, the Phillies reside at 34-40, in last place in the NL East and owners of a slim 10 percent chance to qualify for the postseason, per ESPN.
If Amaro and Philadelphia's front office do hold a fire sale, Hamels' name won't be at the forefront. Upon signing a long-term deal in summer 2012, the now 30-year-old was expected to bridge the gap from past to future success for the former NL East juggernauts.
With older pieces like Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Marlon Byrd, A.J. Burnett, Jonathan Papelbon, Cliff Lee and Carlos Ruiz on the 25-man roster, the Phillies could realistically hold an open auction without moving on from Hamels.
Yet, if the team truly wants to get younger, improve an unimpressive farm system and trade the faint hope of contention in 2014 for a true shot at glory in 2016 and beyond, Hamels represents the best chance for a franchise-changing haul.
While the septet of veterans could net the Phillies varying degrees of prospects and salary relief, none of those readily expendable names comes without concerns.
From age (Rollins, Byrd, Ruiz are all 35 or older) to injury concerns (Lee is currently on the DL with an elbow injury) to regional trade implications (Burnett won't play far from his Monkton, Maryland, home) to drop in velocity (Papelbon), it won't be easy for Amaro to find teams willing to sacrifice top prospects for his marquee veterans.
Hamels, however, is a different story. Since May 11, the former World Series MVP has been one of the best pitchers in baseball. In nine starts over that span, the potential NL All-Star has posted the following eye-opening numbers: 65 IP, 1.66 ERA, 46 H, 70 SO, 22 BB and .201 batting average against.
That streak included a stretch of 23.2 innings without yielding a run, the second-best streak of Hamels' nine-year career.
Despite that dominance, Hamels has only two personal victories to show for his work. Worse, Philadelphia has lost five of his nine excellent starts due to a dearth in run support. Despite the frustration, Hamels doesn't want to be moved unless the Phillies engage in a full-scale rebuilding mode, per Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly.
“Then it’s a different situation,” Hamels said. “And I think you kind of have to look at it in a different way because your careers are only so long. Your good years only last so long. You want to make them count."
For as much as Hamels wants to make his prime count, the Phillies need to make it count even more. By cashing in its best chip now, Philadelphia can expedite a rebuilding process that should have begun last year, if not sooner.
Furthermore, with 24 of 30 teams (including Philadelphia) within six games of postseason position entering play on June 23, an abundance of contenders could be looking for help over the next six weeks, with impact starting pitching at the forefront of potential discussions.
When surveying the scene of potentially available starting pitchers, Hamels stands out for two distinct reasons: 2014 excellence and a reasonable long-term deal moving forward. From 2015-18, Hamels is due $22.5 million per season. In total, $90 million over four years is a bargain for a star-level lefty in his early 30s.
While the following chart includes lower-priced arms and one lefty outshining Hamels this season, the best combination of age, production and cost assurance belongs to the biggest trade chip that Amaro currently owns.
|Impact Arms: 2014 Stats for Potentially Available SPs|
|Starter||Age||SO/BB||ERA/FIP||2015 Contract Status|
|David Price||28||10.23||3.81/3.03||Arb 4|
|Jeff Samardzija||29||3.10||2.60/2.89||Arb 3|
|Ian Kennedy||29||3.96||3.90/3.04||Arb 3|
|FanGraphs/Cot's Baseball Contracts|
For contending teams, the trading season will represent the annual tug of war between winning now and preserving the future. Thanks to excellent production and a reasonable long-term deal, Hamels represents the best of both worlds. His potential inclusion on the open market would change the entire specter of the 2014 season, along with altering the future of the Phillies.
During an interview with SportsRadio 94 WIP in Philadelphia on Monday morning, Amaro was asked about the potential of moving Hamels before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Although the general manager expressed the desire to move forward with Hamels in the organization, his response was void of any guarantee, per CBS Philly.
"I have to keep my mind open on everything,” Amaro said. “Again, some of these guys have limited no-trade clauses. Clearly, we’d like to keep Hamels because I think he’s going to be a part of any transition we might have to make.”
If Amaro's mind is truly open and Hamels continues to mow down National League hitters, offers will come in for the excellent starter.
The 2014 Phillies may be decent enough to make a run in a mediocre NL East, but the odds say that a trip to October is a long shot. If the franchise wants to reposition itself for future trips to the postseason, it's time to cash Hamels in for potential stars.