As the Detroit Tigers slide further and further behind the Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins in the American League Central, General Manager Dave Dombrowski has finally waved the white flag on the 2015 season and declared that his team will be selling at this year’s trade deadline. That means five-time All-Star and 2012 Cy Young winner David Price is all but assured of wearing a different uniform come the first day of August for the second consecutive season. In the midst of what may be his finest season since 2012, Price will command a high asking price, but any contender that adds him will be getting a bona fide ace firing on all cylinders.
With Price becoming available, however, things become more complicated for the Philadelphia Phillies, who have had their ace Cole Hamels on the block all season. Price instantly becomes the most coveted piece on the trade block, followed by Johnny Cueto of the Cincinnati Reds. Cueto is in the midst of another fine season in Cincinnati and will also be a free agent following the 2015 season. Price stands out as the clear-cut number one target with Cueto and Hamels battling it out for the second spot. Just below Cueto and Hamels are Jeff Samardzija, Scott Kazmir, Mike Leake, James Shields, and Yovani Gallardo.
With Hamels knocked down a peg in the pecking order, and the availability of many other quality arms that can be had at a much lower price, the Phillies may have a hard time finding a partner willing to pay them the high asking price they feel Hamels should command. While there is no denying the value of Hamels, the Phillies may be overplaying their hand by demanding a treasure trove of Major League-ready prospects. It does not help matters that Hamels has pitched to a 5.56 ERA over his past eight starts. The 3.94 ERA Hamels posted in June may be influenced by bad luck, as he allowed a .333 BABip in the month, but just a .320 slugging percentage. What cannot be attributed to bad luck, is the .516 slugging percentage Hamels has allowed in his three July starts. While those poor starts may be an aberration, they certainly could cause opposing GM’s to think twice about acquiring Hamels, a pitcher who would be under their control for at least three more seasons.
Over the same period of time that Hamels has struggled, Samardzija has excelled, with a 1.90 ERA in his July starts. Samardzija comes with no strings attached, unlike Hamels, and could be gaining on the Philadelphia left-hander. Hamels will also be 32 in December, meaning that any team that acquires him must be willing to commit to him as he approaches age 35. Despite having nearly 2,000 Major League innings under his belt, Hamels has not dealt with injuries in his career, but it has become increasingly common to see sudden, abrupt breakdowns as pitchers like Hamels enter their mid-thirties. In fact, the Phillies have already dealt with such a thing twice, with Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee‘s careers following nearly the same downward spirals.
In light of the recent struggles of Hamels, the surge of Samardzija, and the addition of Price to the trade market, the Phillies could very well be holding the fourth-most valuable starting pitching trade chip. A team like the Los Angeles Dodgers seemed like a very logical landing spot for Hamels only a few days ago, but Price should now become their first target. The New York Yankees also seem likely to add an ace at the deadline, but adding a pitcher who has been prone to allowing home runs in his career would not seem to be a wise move for a team that plays in a hitter’s park as New York does. Cueto seems to be the most logical target for the Yankees, and they have been scouting him.
The team in most desperate need of starting pitching help is the Toronto Blue Jays. The Blue Jays have one of the most prolific lineups in baseball history, but their pitching has been so atrocious that their playoff hopes look to be in serious jeopardy. The problem for the Blue Jays is that their bullpen has also been a wreck. If the Blue Jays really want to make a run at the playoffs, they will also need to acquire a closer. Aroldis Chapman and Jonathan Papelbon will be on the block, but both of those pitchers would likely force them to part with prospects that would be needed to acquire Hamels. The most logical path for the Blue Jays seems to be adding a closer like Chapman or Papelbon and then going after two lower-tier starters. The Blue Jays’ offense is powerful enough that the pitching staff does not necessarily need a frontline ace, but it does need to be upgraded. A pitcher like Mike Leake could accomplish that without bankrupting the farm system.
That leaves the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros as the only remaining contenders with the pieces available to make a run at Hamels. Looking at the Cubs’ rotation, it seems hard to justify parting with several top-end prospects to get Hamels. Jake Arrieta has become a true ace and Jon Lester, Jason Hammel, and Kyle Hendricks have all outperformed Hamels on the year. It would not seem to be the wisest move to add Hamels to serve as a fifth starter. The Astros have slowly begun to fade from the top of the divisional standings, and although they are holding onto a Wild Card spot, dipping into the massive talent pool they have amassed during their rebuilding phase to make a playoff push may not be in the cards for Jeff Luhnow and his front office. The Astros are contending ahead of schedule, but that does not mean they should break from their plan.
The Phillies may very well find a trade partner for Hamels, but the most logical landing spot for him continues to be in Boston with the Red Sox — after the conclusion of the season. By now, it is painfully obvious to the Red Sox that their rotation is in need of a serious overhaul, but they cannot make a trade while sitting nine games under .500. Hamels is still a valuable commodity for the Philadelphia Phillies, but the trade market is always complicated as the deadline approaches. This year will be no different, thanks to Price. For the Phillies, waiting to trade Hamels until after the dust settles seems to be the most logical course of action. The market will still be there for him come the offseason, and he should return to form the rest of the season, which should help to drive his value back up again. Hamels will not start the 2016 season in a Phillies’ uniform, but thanks to the nature of the trade market, it may not come as soon as you think.