Sadlock: Boston Red Sox should pass on Cole Hamels

Philadelphia Phillies’ ace Cole Hamels will very likely be traded before the July 31 Major League Baseball trading deadline passes. The Phillies are in the midst of a rebuilding process with no end in sight. Their farm system was tapped out by years of their own deadline deals for players like Hunter Pence, Cliff Lee, and Roy Oswalt. By the time the Phillies, whose farm system is ranked in the bottom third of baseball, get around to winning, Hamels’ contract will have expired. He is an asset that does not figure into the Phillies’ long-term plans, so it makes sense to try and extract a king’s ransom from a contending team as soon as possible.

The team most connected to the Hamels’ talks so far has been the Boston Red Sox. There is good reason to believe the Red Sox will wind up being the team to pull a trigger on a deal for the Phillies’ ace. The Red Sox are currently scuffling at 22-29. Coming off a last place finish in 2014, expectations were high for the Red Sox, especially after they went out and signed Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. Starting pitching, however, has held the Red Sox back.

Boston’s starters have a 5.05 ERA; the worst in baseball. The -48 run differential the Red Sox currently sport, is better only than the abysmal -73 posted by the Phillies and the -64 of the Milwaukee Brewers so far this season. With all those struggles in the Red Sox’ rotation, it seems to make sense that they would be the logical front runners to acquire Hamels.

This puts Boston General Manager Ben Cherington in an uncomfortable position, because unlike the Phillies, the Red Sox have a loaded farm system. Baseball America ranked it second in Major League Baseball entering 2015. They have seven of the Top-100 prospects in MLB.com’s Prospect Pipeline.

It would seem then, that the Red Sox are the perfect candidate to come to terms on a deal for Hamels with the Phillies. They have the prospects and the money to take on most of the four years and $88.5 million remaining on Hamels’ contract. Cherington will be under immense pressure to go out and get this deal done. So, should they jump right in with both feet and make this deal happen?

I think not, and here’s why.

The Boston Red Sox are in danger of becoming the Philadelphia Phillies of the American League — a big market team that got old quickly after mortgaging the future to try and win now. The Phillies went for broke from 2008 to 2011, and the result is a decrepit ballclub that cannot hit, pitch, or field with little help on the horizon from the farm system. If the Red Sox bankrupt their farm system to bring Hamels in, this is exactly the position they will find themselves in a few years.

The Red Sox have a core of players in David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, and Mike Napoli that are aging rapidly. These three are very similar, in my opinion to Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley, three players that made up the heart of the Phillies’ 2008 World Series winning team. The Phillies’ offense began going downhill when these three got old, just as the Red Sox’ has this season as Ortiz pushes 40, and Pedroia and Napoli begin to show signs of aging.

The Phillies torpedoed their farm system looking to add to their 2008 World Series before the Utley-Howard-Rollins window closed. They dealt away their future for players like Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Roy Oswalt. These one or two-year fixes were great when the Phillies were winning 100 games a season, but in hindsight, set the Phillies up for the three consecutive empty seasons they have endured with a fourth in progress.

This is what could happen to the Boston Red Sox if they are not careful. A trade with the Phillies for Hamels would most certainly require the Red Sox to ship out at least three, if not four, of their top prospects. The Phillies, who have Hamels under contract for four more seasons after this one, hold all the power in any deal for their ace. Despite the fact that Hamels has already made it clear that he would prefer to leave Philadelphia, the ball remains in the Phillies’ court. When they decide to pull the trigger on a deal, they will get exactly what they want.

Getting Hamels would not guarantee much of anything for the Red Sox. Their flaws extend beyond their number one starter, and Hamels is about as useful in Boston as he is in Philadelphia right now. Boston needs a number two and three starter to make this rotation salvageable. Those pitchers could be in the minor leagues right now, but will have to be included in a deal for Hamels. The Red Sox bet big on Clay Buchholz and Rick Porcello, and neither of those bets are paying off. Joe Kelly, Wade Miley, and Justin Masterson have all been just as bad. The lone bright spot in the Red Sox’ rotation was the debut of Eduardo Rodriguez last week. Rodriguez looks to be the real deal after shutting out the Texas Rangers over 7.2 innings of three-hit ball in his first Major League start.

The Red Sox have top pitching prospects like left-hander Henry Owens waiting to join Rodriguez in the majors. They would most certainly have to part with him and potentially right-hander Matt Barnes or left-hander Brian Johnson to get Hamels. The Phillies will also want a position player or two. Blake Swihart is out thanks to Christian Vazquez‘s elbow injury. That leaves Manuel Margot and Rafael Devers as potential trade bait. These are not the kind of players you want to be trading away when you are betting on Pablo Sandoval at third and Hanley Ramirez in left.

The Red Sox’ best course of action is to sit on their hands and let Hamels pass them by. The front office is no doubt feeling the heat after two last place finishes in three seasons, and another one looming. That could lead to the team making a hasty deal for Hamels, but that will not transform the Red Sox into a World Series contender this year or next. Hamels can provide some short-term relief at the top of the rotation, but the team’s flaws lie deeper than that.

At some point, a team must be willing to allow its farm system to produce Major Leaguers, rather than serve as an endless cycle of trading chips. The Philadelphia Phillies learned this the hard way. If the Boston Red Sox continue on this path, they may find themselves further than ever from bringing another World Series trophy to Boston.

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