Why the Cubs Wanted Cole Hamels But Didn't Get Him

Why the Cubs Wanted Cole Hamels But Didn't Get Him

The Cubs made a claim for Cole Hamels, a move that was both surprising and unsurprising at the same time. Surprising in that the Cubs would be taking on a player over the age of 30 with a minimum of $96 million guaranteed, and unsurprising because Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein have been vocal about the club's attempt to acquire pitching to make up for the void in the system.

Cole Hamels' value is something that has been hotly debated, mainly because he is the middle of a contract that pays for his age 31-34 seasons (and a club/vesting option for age 35 season). He is also really, really good. Over the past five years he has thrown an average of 199 innings (which is only because this year isn't complete).

His ERA in that span has been 3.03, which matches his peripherals (3.25 FIP) almost perfectly. His K/BB has been under 17% just once in that time frame (and even then it was 16.8% which is pretty good). Cole Hamels is a clear-cut top-of-the-rotation starter (whether you want to slap a 1 or 2 label on him is not something I care to wade into).

What is baffling is that there was talk of the Phillies needing to eat money to make a deal happen. Hamels for 4 years and $96 million would be a steal on the current free agent market. The annual salary is in line with market value a guy like Jon Lester is expected to receive, but the guaranteed years are something you dream of in landing a starting pitcher in Hamels' category.

Granted, both Zack Greinke and Masahiro Tanaka were younger when they signed, but both landed 7-year deals. Lester is expected to command at least 5, if not 6 or 7. The question then is what is a market-value-priced TOR starter?

The best answer is we don't know; Jeff Samardzija managed to net Addison Russell in a deal. Samardzija has an arbitration year left, but the expected price tag to keep him beyond that year is in the 6 year, $120 million range. He has also had far less success than Cole Hamels. I find it difficult to logically argue that Shark is more valuable than Hamels.

Dave Cameron of FanGraphs has been vocal about the Phillies' need to trade Cole Hamels, but what he wrote before the deadline is interesting to note:

The Phillies could easily market Hamels as Price-with-more-future-control, as they’ve been very similar pitchers over the last three years. They probably wouldn’t get as much in return for Hamels as the Rays would for Price — teams would likely rather not have the extra guaranteed years, which tells you something about the future value of those years — but they’d be able to command a pretty decent haul, and free up all of the remaining money owed for reallocation.

The Cubs wanted Hamels. They wouldn't have made a claim if they didn't want to pay that contract for his production. Cole Hamels is a very good pitcher and would fill a clear void in the organization for top of the rotation starter. But the Phillies were not going to give a talent like that away.

The reported ask by the Phillies from the Dodgers was three top-100 prospects in Joc Pederson, Julio Urias, and Corey Seager. Ruben Amaro Jr. was not going to accept a deal that didn't match that offer. Again, Jeff Samardzija, in a more involved deal, managed to net a top-5 prospect. The Phillies were not going to accept Dan Vogelbach/Pierce Johnson-type prospects in return.

Players not on the 40-man roster can be traded without passing through waivers, so the Cubs could have made an offer built around a Kris Bryant or Addison Russell. But are they really willing to part with a prized prospect for a player over 30? The Cubs made a nice play to claim Hamels. However, the gap in value between what the Cubs will, maybe should, give up is probably a lot lower than what the Phillies wanted in return.

One perceived roadblock to the deal turned out to be a non-issue. Contrary to earlier reports, Cole Hamels could not have blocked a trade to the Cubs. He gets to block 21 teams, and in a lot of cases agents advised their clients to block non-contenders.

The reason for this is that those teams are unlikely to trade for the player and, therefore, the player has some leverage to negotiate some extra benefits out of the team trading for them. Or Cole Hamels might genuinely being interested in joining the Cubs. Either way he is out of the equation in terms of whether or not the Cubs can make a splash for 2015.

At the end of the day, this was much ado about nothing. That Phillies have been very public about teams needing to be aggressive to get their guys. The Cubs weren't ridiculously aggressive in their offer, and Hamels remains in Philadelphia. However, this does signal a shift in the type of players the Cubs are targeting. Being willing to pay market value for an over-30 top-of-the-rotation starter is a new development.

@dabynsky

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  • 1. Am I correct that Philly revoked the waivers, and hence from Philly's perspective, any trade talk with anyone is off because now their only available path is to outright him (irrevocable waiver)?

    2. Is there some source for the text of the contracts themselves, or does the media just rely on the twitterverse on whether his no trade clause had or didn't have an exception for the Cubs?

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