While recent reports have linked the Dodgers to Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels, such a trade is unlikely — at least for now.
The Phillies would want one of the Dodgers’ top position prospects, shortstop Corey Seager or outfielder Joc Pederson, in any Hamels deal, according to major-league sources.
And the Dodgers, rather than part with premium young talent and assume the remainder of Hamels’ contract, can purchase a free-agent pitcher for a comparable price and give up no more than a draft pick.
The Dodgers, according to sources, are indeed expressing interest in the top free-agent starters — left-hander Jon Lester and right-handers Max Scherzer and James Shields.
But then, the Dodgers always will express interest in such pitchers, even in offseasons such as this one, when they are trying to streamline their payroll by trading at least one high-priced outfielder.
The bottom line is that, at some point soon, the Dodgers will need to address their rotation. Left-hander Clayton Kershaw is signed through 2020, lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu through 2018. But righty Zack Greinke can opt out of his contract after this season and right-hander Dan Haren also is under control only through ’15.
In addition, Ryu twice missed time with shoulder irritation last season. He was sidelined nearly three weeks in May and did not pitch after Sept. 12 in the regular season, but recovered to make a strong start in the Division Series.
Given the commitments to Kershaw and Ryu, a right-hander such as Scherzer or Shields seemingly would make more sense than a lefty such as Lester. However, a source confirmed Wednesday night that the Dodgers have strong interest in Lester, who – unlike any of the current Dodgers starters – has a successful postseason track record.
Meanwhile, the free-agent class for starting pitchers next offseason will be even deeper. That class could include not only Greinke, but also right-handers Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, as well as lefty David Price and others.
Hamels, who turns 31 on Dec. 27, is arguably as good or better than any of those pitchers, and the remaining four years and $90 million on his contract likely will look a bargain after Lester and Scherzer sign their new deals.
The Dodgers could acquire Hamels without his consent — they are not one of the 20 teams on his no-trade list, according to sources. The team could even expand the deal to include shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who would be an appealing one-year bridge to Seager. Rollins, 36, has full no-trade protection as a player with 10 years of service and five consecutive with the same club, but might approve a deal to a large market such as Los Angeles.
The problem is that the Phillies want young talent for Hamels. And the Dodgers, under new president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, remain reluctant to part with the prospects that the previous front deemed off-limits at the July 31 non-waiver deadline — Seager, Pederson and left-hander Julio Urias.
The Dodgers are not short on money; they are short on players. At present, they would forfeit only the 25th pick in the draft for signing Scherzer or Shields, though their position in the first round could further improve as other teams sign compensation free agents (Lester, who became exempt from a qualifying offer after getting traded at midseason, will not cost his next team a pick.)
Losing a pick, though, is still better than losing a prospect; highly regarded youngsters such as Seager and Pederson already have track records in professional baseball.
The Red Sox, deeper in young talent than the Dodgers, would be better positioned to acquire Hamels. And while the Sox are on Hamels’ no-trade list, according to sources, the team could buy his approval by exercising his $20 million club option for 2019. At that point, he would be under contract for five years, $110 million.
The Dodgers, unencumbered by the no-trade restriction, would not need to add the fifth year. But in the end, it’s not the money they’re worried about; it’s the prospects. The Dodgers simply do not want to give up a Seager or Pederson when they can improve in other ways.