OK, can the Phillies stop asking the Red Sox about center fielder Mookie Betts and catcher Blake Swihart now?
The Red Sox were smart to keep both youngsters off-limits when discussing trades for Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels during the offseason. Betts already looks like a star. Swihart could become one, too, and his value to the Sox only increased after Christian Vazquez underwent Tommy John surgery.
So, is it over? Will the Phillies simply turn their attention to teams other than the Red Sox when trying to move Hamels? Or might the Phils come to their senses and target the next layer of prospects in the Sox’s bountiful farm system?
As the Red Sox visit Yankee Stadium this weekend (FOX Sports 1, Saturday, 1:05 p.m.), I would imagine that the Sox’s view of the Phillies’ stance can be summed up in two words: "Their problem."
The Sox, mind you, still need to trade for a pitcher of Hamels’ caliber, no matter how good Clay Buchholz looked in their opener, no matter how much they’re paying Rick Porcello. But Hamels will not be the only starting pitcher available before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, making the Phillies’ seeming inflexibility all the more difficult to fathom.
Think about it: The Braves just found a way to trade outfielder Melvin Upton Jr., and the Phillies can’t trade Hamels?
Oh, I know it’s not a perfect or particularly fair analogy. The Braves had to part with All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel to persuade the Padres to take Upton. And the Phillies could trade Hamels, but in their view they have yet to receive a sufficient offer.
The point is, the Padres were just one of several teams to creatively and dramatically reshape their roster during the offseason — the Dodgers, Athletics, White Sox, Braves and Rays were among the others.
Yet the Phillies moved only shortstop Jimmy Rollins, outfielder Marlon Byrd and reliever Antonio Bastardo, leaving themselves in a state that is perhaps best described as uncertain misery.
Hamels had a rough start against the Sox Opening Day — no big deal under normal circumstances. The Phillies, though, are now in a position in which Hamels could damage his trade value with even a small slump or ruin it if he suffers a significant injury (see Cliff Lee).
Closer Jonathan Papelbon, another of the Phillies’ trade candidates, made his sentiments about the team known Wednesday, telling the Boston Globe, "I don’t really feel like a Phillie," and adding "a big part of my heart" is still with his former team, the Red Sox.
Hamels and first baseman Ryan Howard almost certainly will remain more diplomatic than Papelbon, and second baseman Chase Utley continues to maintain that he does not want to be traded at all. But at some point, the Phillies’ self-inflicted paralysis must end.
They’re not getting Betts or Swihart for Hamels, not when the left-hander is owed at least $96 million over the next four years and holds a vesting option for a fifth season that could increase the total to $110 million.
They’re not getting shortstop Corey Seager from the Dodgers, and they’re not getting shortstop Addison Russell from the Cubs. Yes, the Athletics parted with Russell and another top prospect, outfielder Billy McKinney, for 1½ seasons of Jeff Samardzija and a half season of Jason Hammel, but those two pitchers combined were due a fraction of Hamels’ remaining obligation. It would be a shock if such a suitor emerged for Hamels. In trades today, teams generally secure financial relief or top prospects, not both.
The Phillies could pull a Braves-like maneuver and require any team that wants Hamels to take Howard, Papelbon or even catcher Carlos Ruiz. But such a strategy further would diminish their chances of a strong return, and they need players more than dollars.
What the Phillies should do is restart talks with the Red Sox, understanding that Betts and Swihart are untouchable. The Red Sox, in turn, should make every one of their other prospects available, depending upon the overall package.
Really, this shouldn’t be so difficult.
The Red Sox boast surpluses of left-handed pitchers (Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez, Brian Johnson) and left-side infielders (shortstop Deven Marrero, third baseman/outfielder Garin Cecchini) who are close to major-league-ready. They’ve also got a number of other prospects at various stages of development who could interest the Phillies (righty Matt Barnes, outfielder Manuel Margot, third baseman Rafael Devers). Even Vazquez would be worthy of exploration, if the Phillies were willing to take on a catcher recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Some combination of the above names should do it — sorry, the Red Sox cannot keep them all. The Phillies are haunted by the poor return they received from the Mariners for Lee in December 2009 — right-hander Phillippe Aumont, outfielder Tyson Gillies and righty Juan Ramirez. But they and their fans should understand that these deals are a risk and not certain to succeed.
Teams generally prefer to hold trade candidates until the non-waiver deadline, allowing demand to build. Well, Padres general manager A.J. Preller just defied the normal rhythms of the baseball calendar, so why can’t Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr.? The quicker Amaro acts, the better he will do for Hamels. And the truth is, the GM already has waited too long.
By now, Amaro should know what is out there. His best deal probably will be with the Red Sox, unless the Cubs decide to jump. And even those teams could balk, recognizing that an ample supply of starting pitchers will be available at the deadline and in the next free-agent market.
The clock keeps ticking. And neither Betts nor Swihart is walking through the Phillies’ clubhouse door.