The Actual Cost of Cole Hamels

Even though the Rangers trading for Cole Hamels is a "longshot," per Evan Grant, Gerry Fraley writes that they continue to pursue the left-hander. 

A couple days ago Brandon posted an article about a report from a Philadelphia writer saying Texas was one of four teams expressing interest, and a couple months ago I thought aloud with my keyboard about the Rangers trading for him, so this isn't really about that. This is more a continuation to exploring the theory of Cole Hamels in a Texas Rangers uniform. 

After agreeing to one-year deals with Neftali Feliz and Ross Detwiler, thus avoiding arbitration, and the impending agreement with Mitch Moreland, the Rangers will be left with -- give or take a couple million dollars -- about $10 million below their $135 million payroll budget they don't want to eclipse. 

Cole Hamels, of course, is still owed $94 million over the remaining four years of his contract, per Baseball Reference, a figure that vests to a five-year, $114 million deal with some innings pitched thresholds in 2018. I know it sounds like a lot of money, but considering he's a #1 starter slated to make about half of the 7-8 year, $200-plus million contract Max Scherzer is about to sign, it's cheap for the going rate of an ace. 

That Evan Grant mentioned the Phillies would have to eat significant money makes sense given the Rangers payroll situation, as acquiring Hamel's $23.5 million AAV contract would put the club around $15 million over its purported budget. 

Still, we're only a shade over a month away from spring training, and it's hard for me to wrap my brain around the thought that doing nothing was part of Jon Daniels's offseason blueprint. And while I'm not that fan who kicks and screams when my team isn't making fun trades like everyone else in baseball, I will say if there was a trade to be found, Cole Hamels should be exactly the type of player the Rangers make an exception for. 

Hamels just turned 31, and has spent his entire career in Philadelphia averaging roughly +4 fWAR per year in one of the best hitters parks in MLB; there is reason to think he would be even better than his lifetime 3.27 ERA (3.37 xFIP) pitching half his starts in Texas, a park that has clearly gone neutral the last two seasons. 

Hamels has a lifetime 43.3% ground ball rate (46.4% in 2014) and 23.3% career strikeout rate (23.9% in '14); it's not that difficult to picture him in a different setting than the homer friendly Citizen's Bank Park -- let's say Arlington -- and see his career 10.9% HR/FB rate go down; at The Ballpark in Arlington in particular, the short porch in right field would be somewhat neutralized with the lefty Hamels on the mound. Proven by his pedigree, Hamels's skill set works in any stadium, but Texas favors lefty hitting and Cole is a lefty, basically. It just makes sense. 

Money obviously enters into the ultimate decision, and may well be the deciding factor in this case, but if upper management was going to take an over-budget gamble on anyone, it would be Hamels. This is the same GM and same ownership team who thought it would be a solid idea to drop over $50 million for Yu Darvish's posting fee, simply for the right to spend another $56 million on Yu's actual contract.

If the belief in the player is there, this brain trust have proven they are comfortable playing with big money. 

First there is the financial cost, but that only partly accounts for the actual cost, which is conflated by the prospects Texas would be dealing to Philadelphia in exchange. Ruben Amaro Jr.'s asking price for Hamels is apparently "unrealistic," which it should be possessing one of the few best trade chips in MLB; however, if we suspend disbelief (for the hell of it), picture Bob Simpson and Ray Davis willing to pony up the cash for a franchise-altering exception like Hamels, how many prospects would it take, and which?

The first name every team in the industry would ask for -- and the last Texas wants to fork over in a trade -- is Joey Gallo. Behind him are players like 19 year-old Nomar Mazara and catcher Jorge Alfaro, who would be the #1 prospect in several MLB farm systems. Given the depth of Texas's minor league system, any of those three are talented enough to headline a deal for Cole Hamels. The challenge would be to accomplish a deal without losing two of those guys. 

Reasonably speaking, I'm probably in the minority in the fan base on this issue, Hamels is simply the guy the Rangers should go for broke on. With a potentially average offense, a patchwork-but-probably-still-effective-enough bullpen, the rotation will make this club sink or swim in 2015. A rotation fronted by Darvish, Hamels and Derek Holland would be downright scary, or at least imposing enough to give Texas a puncher's chance in the West.

Now, I'm not advocating that JD should ship Gallo, Alfaro and Mazara to Philly to get Cole Hamels; if they could get away with Alfaro and Mazara, an outfield prospect (Lewis Brinson/Nick Williams), and a reliever (Corey Knebel/Keone Kela), I'd be comfortable with that trade. But I'm just speculating. 

The reason Cole Hamels to Texas likely won't happen is because there are two deal-breakers: 

(1) The fact that Hamels is too expensive in the short term if the Rangers want to be faithful to their budget;

(2) The cost in prospects would have to be liberal. Joey Gallo, to me, is untouchable, but there are other ways the Rangers could get their hands on Hamels with the farm at their disposals;

These are major issues. It would be like if I wanted to spend $1,000 to buy into a poker tournament but I didn't have $1,000, and didn't know how to play poker. It just wouldn't be an option in the first place. 

Because this is an actual topic of conversation, it leads you (or maybe it's just me) to believe there is more wiggle room in the Rangers budget than they've led on. Do I think Cole Hamels will get traded to the Rangers? I wouldn't bet on it. But if it doesn't happen, I believe it will have less to do with the money, and more that they don't feel like trading their very best prospects. 

But if not for Cole Hamels, then who?