This past weekend, baseball’s marquee matchup pitted the Los Angeles Dodgers against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals took three of four, and have now won five of the seven games between the two National League pennant contenders. St. Louis has held the Dodgers to just 10 runs in the seven games the teams have played. The Cardinals have also held the Dodgers to one run or less in four of the games. Clearly, if these teams meet in the postseason, runs will be at a premium.
The Dodgers entered the 2015 season with high hopes for their starting rotation. Clayton Kershaw‘s ERA is doing a nosedive after a rocky start, and Zack Greinke is in the midst of a career year with a 1.92 ERA. Unfortunately for Dodger faithful, arm injuries have felled both Hyun-jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy. They are now dependent upon Brett Anderson (29-36 career win-loss record), Mike Bolsinger (15 career starts), and Carlos Frias (nine career starts and a 4.20 career ERA in the minors). Anderson is a perfectly good option for a number-five starter, but continuing on with him slotted in at number three is a stretch. Bolsinger has a 1.98 ERA in six starts since being called up, but that’s not going to last for the soft-tossing right-hander who went 1-6 with a 5.50 ERA last season for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He’s getting by on good luck for now, as his strikeout rate is nearly 2.5 per nine lower than it was last season and his BABip is 50 points below the league average. Frias is another pitch-to-contact type who needs to get groundballs to be successful. He has a ten-run, four-inning start against the San Diego Padres on his resume this season, and allowed ten hits in 6.2 innings on Thursday against the Cardinals.
The Dodgers could get by with this type of rotation if the San Francisco Giants were following their typical odd-year, down-year trend, but the Giants are not cooperating. As the standings sit today, the Dodgers have only a 0.5 game lead over the Giants, and are 2-7 against their sworn enemies from the Bay Area. A Wild Card berth would not even be assured for the Dodgers should they fall behind the Giants, as the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Mets, and Chicago Cubs are all breathing down their neck in the league-wide standings.
The Dodgers must upgrade their rotation, and there is only one logical choice. That is Cole Hamels of the Philadelphia Phillies. The Dodgers made headlines in back in 2012 when they acquired Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett from the Boston Red Sox at the trade deadline. Don’t forget, though, that the Dodgers nearly made headlines again in 2014 by putting in a waiver claim on the Phillies’ Cliff Lee. The two teams could not come to an agreement on a trade at the time, but with their rotation hurting, it is time for the Dodgers to really work to complete a deal with the Phillies for their best trade chip.
The Dodgers have the cash, the prospects, and the need to make this deal work. Prior to the season, Baseball America ranked their farm system the third-best system in baseball, behind two teams they will likely be bidding against for Hamels, the Chicago Cubs and the Red Sox. I think now, however, that the Red Sox will sit out the Hamels sweepstakes thanks to their middling season. The fact that many of their position players are aging or struggling may also prompt the Red Sox to want to hold onto their best MLB-ready hitting prospects, something the Phillies covet in any deal for Hamels. The Cubs do not have a massive need for Hamels in their rotation, and would be better served holding onto their prospects.
That leaves the Dodgers, who cleared plenty of cash by trading Matt Kemp to the Padres, to make a deal for Hamels. I think they can do it, and they have the ability to absorb a higher percent of Hamels’ salary than most other teams. The likelihood of this deal being completed may hinge on the Dodgers’ willingness to part with megaprospect Corey Seager. The Dodgers obviously would prefer to keep Seager given the struggles and age of Jimmy Rollins, their current shortstop. They do have other attractive tradepieces, and do not underestimate their ability to take on another one of the Phillies’ bad contracts such as Ryan Howard or Jonathan Papelbon as part of a deal for Hamels.
Cole Hamels will get traded before the non-waiver deadline, and to me, the Dodgers are the most logical destination. Hamels is a California native, and wants out of Philadelphia as the rebuilding process drags on. He is 31 years old, and has been incredibly durable his entire career. Maybe he’s no longer a true ace, but he is more than enough to help the Dodgers keep themselves ahead of the Giants. Hamels is also under contract through the 2018 season, and would provide a huge insurance policy should the always unpredictable Zack Greinke decide he has had too much of California. Greinke is in the midst of a stellar season, and given the staggering rise in number-one starter money the past few seasons, he looks like an excellent candidate to opt out of his six-year, $147 million contract. Hamels will earn only $90.5 million over the next four years of his deal, and the Phillies will likely eat some of that money. That will be a huge bargain to what Greinke will be worth on the open market, and could help sway the Dodgers into acquiring Hamels.
This deal just makes too much sense for both sides. The Dodgers must upgrade their rotation if they expect to win the NL West, let alone compete with the Cardinals and Washington Nationals for a World Series berth. The Phillies can make Hamels happy by sending him back home to Southern California and a more pitcher-friendly park and division. Johnny Cueto is also likely to be moved by the Cincinnati Reds, but he is a free agent following the 2015 season, and will command just as much of a bounty as Hamels with no guarantee of a long-term deal. Hamels is the right call for the Los Angeles Dodgers as they work to upgrade their rotation, and I think we will finally get to see Andrew Friedman complete a blockbuster deal to actually put his team in a position to win for the first time since being freed of the cost cutting Tampa Bay Rays.