Since Jon Daniels took the reigns of the Rangers organization, one thing has been abundantly clear: he has never been afraid of assuming the risk if he believes in a player's talent.
Cole Hamels, 31, has long been the object of this front office's affection, and last night a trade was finalized sending LHP Matt Harrison and five prospects -- C Jorge Alfaro, OF Nick Williams, and RHPs Jake Thompson, Alec Asher and Jerad Eickhoff -- to the Phillies to get him. In the immediate, it's a blow to one of the deepest farm systems in MLB; over the long-term, this transaction puts Texas as one of the favorites in the American League as early as next season.
Heading into trade deadline week, like most Rangers fans I was skeptical of assuming high-priced talent and giving up prospects. But... I'm also the guy who wrote before the season that, if there was an exception to be made, Cole Hamels would be a good place to start. So I'm all over the place.
The three names of consequence going to the Phillies are Alfaro, Williams and Thompson. Their ceilings, depending on who you ask, are two future All Star position players, and a quality #2 starter. None, however, are guarantees. Alfaro has been lauded for his 80-raw power and 80-grade arm, but he's also struggled moving through the minors with his plate discipline, as well as his catching/receiving skills behind the plate. Nick Williams, who has enjoyed a monster .295/.357/.479 (132 wRC+) campaign, has been a riser in 2015, but ESPN Insider Keith Law writes, "I still have serious concerns about the approach, the poor pitch recognition, and the below-average instincts in the field."
For a Rangers fan, the quality of this trade is inversely proportional to how much he or she values those three guys. If you love the prospects, you probably don't like the trade. Since he's out for the year, Alfaro is a real wild card in all this, and most who have followed his career will submit to the idea that he's a bang or bust talent. More polarizing is Williams, who some swear on to be the next big thing. I guess only time will tell.
The reason I see Texas as such a winner in this deal has little to do with the prospects, and everything to do with the one outlier of the package: Matt Harrison. Since PHI will take on the remaining $34 million owed -- as well as an additional $9.5 million from Hamels's contract -- then, as Eno Sarris of FanGraphs states (emphasis mine):
If they weren’t covering all of Harrison’s remaining contract, the cash would be going the other direction, so it’s probably safe to say that the Phillies are off-setting something like $30 million of the remaining $67.5 million Hamels is due over the next three years. That makes the marginal cost increase only in the range of $43.5 million if they buy-out his 2019 option for $6 million: Hamels at three years and $43.5 million is an absurd value for the type of pitcher the Rangers should expect.
This goes without saying, neither of top prospect Joey Gallo, nor #2 prospect Nomar Mazara, will be leaving town. Chi Chi Gonzalez is still with us. Outfielder Lewis Brinson (.337/.416/.628, 179 wRC+) is still around to provide whatever outfield depth was lost in Williams. As the roster starts to take shape in 2016 and beyond, the Rangers still have the pitching depth, still have the outfield depth, and, sans Jorge Alfaro, essentially traded away what can be considered superfluous assets.
The goal of the farm system is to supply the major league team, whether it's from the organization developing its prospects, or those prospects being traded. It's all with the intention of winning the World Series
For Jon Daniels, the real weapon was having a minor league system deep enough to shed five potential future big leaguers, while still holding onto his top two. It's a steep price to pay, but with all the money Philadelphia is offsetting, the Rangers created a way to save even more money on top of what was already an under-market contract for an ace.
With the 2016 rotation seemingly set (assuming health), we can expect Hamels to join Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Martin Perez, and probably Chi-Chi Gonzalez, giving the Rangers about as formidable a rotation as exists in baseball.