A rival executive interested in Cole Hamels was puzzled by a recent conversation he had with Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., wondering if Amaro truly intends to trade his prized left-hander.
The Phillies say they are open to moving Hamels for the right package. The problem, the rival exec speculated, is that Amaro wants to make the "perfect" deal — and perhaps needs such a deal to keep his job.
Amaro is not alone in the Hamels talks; the Phillies’ former GM, interim CEO Pat Gillick, also is involved in the discussions. The Phillies, though, are in something of a damned-if-they-do, damned-if-they-don’t position.
They do not want to waste their biggest chip by making a questionable trade. But they also do not want to risk Hamels getting hurt by carrying him into the season — remember, Hamels did not pitch until April 23 last year due to left biceps tendinitis.
The Red Sox, Cardinals, Rangers and Padres are the teams with the strongest interest in Hamels, according to a report by Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com. The Yankees also have inquired, but only as a matter of due diligence — they are not seriously pursuing Hamels, major-league sources say.
The market for Hamels appears to hinge, at least in part, on the markets for free-agent right-handers Max Scherzer and James Shields, as well as the trade market for Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann.
The Red Sox and Cardinals, in particular, could be waiting to see if the prices for Scherzer and/or Shields drop to a level at which they are comfortable taking the plunge.
Boston Red Sox
The entire industry knows the Sox need an ace to front their rotation and cap off their offseason. But the team is not exactly rushing to acquire Hamels, in part because it may be involved in other pursuits.
Rob Bradford of Boston’s WEEI.com quoted a source Thursday as saying the Phillies were "unrealistic in their expectations" on a potential return for Hamels. Such comments are not unusual in the middle of negotiations — the Phillies want the best deal possible, and rival teams want to knock down the price.
The bottom line is that the Sox could trade catcher Blake Swihart, a pitching prospect such as Matt Barnes and a hitting prospect such as Garin Cecchini and still be left with a deep collection of young talent. But teams generally do not want to give up steep prospect packages and assume steep contracts.
Hamels, 31, is owed four years and $96 million, and given that the Sox are on his 20-team no-trade list, he could demand that they guarantee his vesting option, bringing the package to five years, $110 million.
Then again, the Sox could play hardball with Hamels, effectively saying, "Do you want to play for a potential World Series contender or remain stuck with the Phillies?" If it came to that, Hamels would need to make a decision.
St. Louis Cardinals
A little more than a week ago, FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi and I wrote that the Cardinals were exploring a number of high-end pitching options, including Hamels. The team’s interest in Hamels, however, has not advanced, sources said.
Perhaps the Cardinals are focused on other matters — the deadline for exchanging arbitration figures is Friday, and as one agent put it, "the (baseball) world is focused on arbitration except Billy" — meaning, Athletics general manager Billy Beane, who continues to make trades.
The Cardinals signed right-hander Lance Lynn to a three-year, $22 million deal on Thursday, covering his remaining arbitration years. Lynn, though, remains the only long-term certainty in their rotation; Adam Wainwright is coming off cleanup surgery on his elbow, and John Lackey is a free agent after this season.
Would the Phillies accept a package headed by righty Carlos Martinez and outfielder Randal Grichuk? The better question might be whether the Cardinals would offer such a package. Like the Red Sox, they remain deeply protective of their prospects.
The issue for this club is Hamels’ contract, which raises the question: Why are the Phillies adamant about refusing to include cash in any Hamels deal?
The Phillies are short on players, not dollars. By including money, they could entice a greater number of suitors and ultimately cut a better deal.
The Rangers are deep in middle infielders, and could offer a variety of prospects at other positions. But their payroll already projects to the $125 million to $130 million range due to the additions of first baseman Prince Fielder and outfielder Shin-Soo Choo last offseason, and evidently they are not in position to take it much higher.
Hamels clearly is open to a trade to Texas — the Rangers and Yankees are the only two American League teams that are not on his no-trade list, as first reported by Bob Nightengale of USA Today.
Hamels’ wife, Heidi, has family in Texas (as well as the St. Louis area, where she is from). Texas also appeals to players because it does not have state income tax.
San Diego Padres
Can’t rule the Pads out on anything, can we? Not when Hamels is from San Diego. And not when Padres GM A.J. Preller already has stunned the industry from his low-revenue position by acquiring two high-priced stars, outfielders Matt Kemp and Justin Upton.
The Dodgers are paying $18 million of Kemp’s $21 million salary this season, creating short-term flexibility for another expensive talent. But could the Pads truly afford to carry Hamels at $22.5 million per season through 2018 and Kemp at $18.5 million per season through ’19, factoring in the Dodgers’ remaining contribution?
Seems unlikely if the Phillies are unwilling to help finance the trade.
What’s more, Preller already has traded a number of prospects, and is now down to the cream of his system — outfielder Hunter Renfroe, catcher Austin Hedges and right-hander Matt Wisler. The Phillies like Renfroe (almost all teams do), but some in the industry question whether Hedges will hit and whether Wisler has top-of-the-rotation potential.