Crunch time for Hamels, Phillies
If you’re Cole Hamels, and the Phillies offer you more than $130 million, it doesn’t mean you have to say yes.
Hamels waited this long for the Phillies to engage him; he might want to wait three more months to satisfy his curiosity about the free-agent market — and perhaps get an even better deal.
He also might be reluctant to commit to a team in seeming decline, a team that is 14 games out in the National League East and 10 1/2 games back in the wild-card race with the NL’s oldest roster.
The Hamels talks will accelerate this week; the non-waiver trade deadline is a week from Tuesday, and the Phillies need an answer. But the club, by taking this sudden pivot, has put Hamels in an awkward position. Not surprisingly, he is said to be “conflicted” about how to proceed.
Hamels, 28, received a warm, standing ovation from the crowd at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday after his gallant but flawed 128-pitch outing against the Giants. It was difficult to determine whether the fans were applauding his effort, or perhaps saying goodbye.
The Phillies almost certainly will trade Hamels if they do not sign him, and not everyone in baseball thinks that is such a bad idea — “their team is in last place, and they’re trying to keep it together,” one rival executive noted last week, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. talks of re-tooling, competing in each of the next several seasons. Such a goal would be more difficult to fulfill without Hamels. But trading him — along with center fielder Shane Victorino and any other Phillies player who has value — also could benefit the organization long-term.
The Phillies have veered sharply in the opposite direction in recent years, trading numerous prospects for veterans to help sustain their run of five straight division titles. An outright crash seems unlikely; the franchise’s resources are too vast. But if you were Hamels, wouldn’t you be questioning the team’s future?
Amaro can dismiss the current mess, in part, by pointing to the prolonged absences of three injured players who might never be the same — the team’s ace, Roy Halladay, and 3-4 hitters, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Hamels, in his public comments, has been positive when asked about the Phils, saying he likes the team, likes the city.
Ownership, he knows, not only is committed to winning, but also figures to hit the jackpot with its next local TV contract when its current deal with Comcast expires after the 2015 season. In the meantime, expiring contracts will help create flexibility. The Phillies can pick and choose the players they want, and money will be only so much of an issue.
One rival executive suggests that the Phillies will be fine as long as they keep Hamels and proceed with a rotation that also includes Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Vance Worley. The same exec notes that players who sign long-term deals cannot realistically expect the team to be a contender for every year of the contract.
Put it all together — the need for Hamels to assess the future of the team, the quality of the Phillies’ offer and his potential on the free-agent market — and it’s a lot to ask a player to figure out in a short amount of time.
Hamels easily could tell the Phillies, “It’s the middle of the season. I’m not yet ready to make a decision. But I’d love to resume these conversations during the off-season.
At that point, the Phillies could trade him — or not.
They could have avoided the question entirely by completing these negotiations long ago.
THE GIANTS: LESS THAN OFFENSIVE AGAIN
The Giants won the 2010 World Series with a below-average offense, but in some respects this one is even worse.
First base remains an issue; Brandon Belt is batting .231 with a .716 OPS. But once catcher Hector Sanchez returns from a sprained left knee, Buster Posey again can play first more frequently.
A right-handed hitting outfielder is perhaps the bigger offensive need. Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan are switch-hitters. Gregor Blanco and Nate Schierholtz are left-handed. One Giants coach, asked to describe the type of player the team could use, said, “Cody Ross.”
Ross, of course, was the MVP of 2010 NLCS for the Giants, but he currently is with the Red Sox, who are unlikely to trade him. The Giants also are looking for bullpen help — they lack strikeout punch in the late innings. But as this comparison shows, the offense remains a bigger problem.
AN EVEN BETTER CAIN
Giants right-hander Matt Cain said his No. 1 goal this season was to reduce his walks, and his perfect game provided ample evidence that he is succeeding.
Cain is averaging fewer than two walks per nine innings, the lowest rate of his career and the eighth best in the NL this season. His strikeout rate, meanwhile, is the highest of his career. The combination, not surprisingly, is helping Cain produce his best season.
THE MYTH OF RUN DIFFERENTIAL
The Orioles are tied for the second wild card in the AL, but their minus-44 run differential is the worst in their division and fourth worst in the league, ahead of only the Indians (minus-47), Royals (minus-51) and Twins (minus-90).
Some sabermetricians view that statistic as evidence that the Orioles will falter, but club officials see it differently. In their view, the Orioles’ run differential is easily explained.
First, the team’s inconsistent starting pitching produces an unusual number of blowouts. A mere seven games — two 12-run losses, one 11-run loss and four seven-run losses — account for a whopping minus-63.
The Orioles’ terrific bullpen, on the other hand, enables the club to win an inordinate number of close games — the O’s are 10-2 in extra innings and 19-6 in one-run outcomes.
Some sabermetricians would argue that those records are attributable to luck, but close games often are decided by late-inning matchups — and the Orioles’ pen, anchored by All-Star closer Jim Johnson, often is better than the opponents’.
The team is 38-0 when leading after seven innings.
HOW BADLY DO NATS NEED A STARTER?
A rival executive makes the case for the Nationals adding another starting pitcher, pointing out that while the team’s rotation leads the NL in ERA, it ranks only 11th in innings.
The Nats’ bullpen, in contrast, ranks fourth in innings, and risks wearing down as the season progresses. Another rival exec says, “They’re going to run Ross Detwiler out there in a must-win game? I don’t believe that.”
Of course, both those execs have starters who might interest the Nationals. And Detwiler, in fairness, is performing at a high level as a fifth starter — he beat the Braves on Sunday, and is now 5-3 with a 3.01 ERA.
ENCARNACION OR QUENTIN: TAKE YOUR PICK
The Blue Jays’ Edwin Encarnacion and Padres’ Carlos Quentin agreed to remarkably similar three-year extensions — Encarnacion got $29 million, Quentin $27 million with the chance to earn $30 million, plus a full no-trade clause.
Which will prove the better deal?
Both players are 29. Both have spotty medical histories. Quentin offers the more consistent track record. But Encarnacion, if his 26 homers and .972 OPS this season are not simply an outlier, offers greater upside.
Frankly, neither player might be as appealing as the Twins’ Josh Willingham, who signed for considerably less money as a free agent last off-season — three years, $21 million.
The signings of Encarnacion and Quentin made Willingham even more attractive as a trade candidate; right-handed power is in short supply. Yet, Willingham’s contract is so reasonable, the Twins would want a major return.
THE ASTROS-BLUE JAYS TRADE: NOT A PERFECT 10
Moments after the announcement of the 10-player trade between the Astros and Blue Jays, an official with one of the teams texted me, “Not a real impactful deal.”
And that may have been an overstatement.
The Blue Jays, decimated by pitching injuries, simply needed healthy bodies with arms attached:
• Right-hander Brandon Lyon, a potential free agent, will help stabilize the bullpen; he had better numbers with the Astros than righty Brett Myers, who on Saturday was traded to the White Sox.
• Lefty J.A. Happ gets swings-and-misses and comes with two years of control — an important consideration for the Jays, who lack depth between their major-league club and high-ceiling prospects at Class A.
• Right-hander David Carpenter is a potential late-inning reliever with “big upside,” according to one scout — though he already is 27 with mixed results in 64 major-league appearances.
The Astros’ seven-player haul, meanwhile, included right-hander Francisco Cordero and outfielder Ben Francisco, two players who were dead weight for the Jays and included only to help balance salaries (the Blue Jays added about $700,000 in the exchange).
Some teams like right-hander Asher Wojciechowski, a compensation pick in the 2010 draft. Right-hander Joe Musgrove was a comp pick in 2011, but he, too, ranked behind the Jays’ better young pitchers.
The Astros also added catcher Carlos Perez, left-hander David Rollins and a player to be named. If you haven’t heard of them, you’re not alone.
Still, the trade will be a success for the ‘Stros even if they end up with say, only two middle-inning relievers and a backup catcher. All would provide value, partly because they would be under long-term control.
DRAFT-PICK COMPENSATION: ANOTHER THOUGHT
By now, you’ve heard the deadline mantra:
A club that weighs a trade offer for a potential free agent wants to “beat” the quality of the compensation pick it would receive if it kept the player and lost him on the open market.
But, as one executive points out, the value of the pick actually goes beyond that.
The extra selection, under the rules of the new labor agreement, also creates flexibility to manipulate the draft.
The signing bonus pool for each team is based on the number and specific position of its picks in the first 10 rounds; the greater the number, the larger the pool.
The extra dollars, though, can be reallocated any way a club wants. If, for example, a team wants to overpay two players and spend less on the others, the additional money will help.
AROUND THE HORN
• Looking for a late-inning punchout? Take a look at the 2012 strikeout rates per nine innings for some of the top relievers who are available or could be available in trade:
The Brewers don’t have a particularly good bullpen, ranking 12th in the NL in ERA, but Axford and K-Rod aren’t their only relievers drawing interest. Teams also like lefty Manny Parra and right-handed sinker-baller Kameron Loe.
• Here’s something to consider for all those who believe the Marlins will take a major risk if they become “sellers” in their first season in a new ballpark.
Who exactly would the Fish be offending?
While the Marlins’ average home crowd has increased from 19,007 last season to 28,442 this season, it’s not as if they have a large, passionate fan base. They still rank only 18th in the majors in home attendance.
• Cole Hamels is 11-4 with a 3.23 ERA, yet says, “I haven’t had a game where I’ve actually felt in sync. Last year I felt I was in sync a lot. I just had that good feeling where you just know where stuff is going, how to work things in.
“I haven’t had that type of game yet, that comfort. The games have kind of been a grind.”
We all should pitch so terribly.
• The Yankees are a frequently mentioned suitor for the Phillies’ Shane Victorino, but he also would make sense for the Dodgers, Pirates and Reds, among other clubs.
The Phillies might need to include cash in a deal — Victorino is still owed more than $3 million — but that only would enhance their return. They likely will get nothing if he leaves as a free agent; it’s doubtful the team would make Victorino the qualifying offer for draft-pick compensation — one year for around $12 million.
• Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford might never be more than an average player, but he is settling down nicely in his first full season — he hit a three-run homer in extra innings and also a grand slam in the past week.
Crawford’s double-play partner, Ryan Theriot, said the shortstop is improving by “leaps and bounds,” getting more comfortable by the day — comfortable to the point where Theriot says, “He seems like a new guy.”
• Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers returned from a recent scouting trip to Class A South Bend raving about right-hander Archie Bradley, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2011 draft.
Bradley, who turns 20 on Aug. 10, throws 95 to 97 mph with a power curveball. The obvious comp: Cardinals right-hander Chris Carpenter — though Bradley, 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, isn’t quite as tall as Carpenter, who is 6-6, 230.