Archive for Cole Hamels
The Yankees have been without Brett Gardner for all but nine games this season and they still have some concerns about his elbow injury according to Jon Heyman. He adds that they’re exploring the outfield trade market — moreso than the pitching market — and have spoken to the Diamondbacks about Justin Upton (yay!) and the Phillies about Shane Victorino (meh). Gardner will be back no earlier than July 27th.
I’ve written about Upton a few times in the past, including in last week’s mailbag. As I said when we first learned he was on the block, he’s the rare player you gut the farm system to acquire. Young (24!), right-handed power, speed, favorable contract … Upton offers it all. Unfortunately the Yankees are on his no-trade list and Heyman calls it a “major long shot.” Victorino, on the other hand, is a pure rental. The 31-year-old is having the worst offensive season of his career (93 wRC+) but is still a switch-hitter with speed (19 steals in 21 chances) and very good defense. Victorino is owed roughly $4.5M the rest of the season and will become a free agent this winter.
The Bombers have gotten by with Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones in left field during Gardner’s absence, but Heyman says they are concerned about wear-and-tear as the veteran duo spend more time in the field than anticipated. Victorino would be a fine fill-in if Gardner suffers a third setback, but as Brian Cashman said yesterday, the trade costs for even marginal upgrades are prohibitive at the moment. I doubt the Phillies will take a pair of Grade-B prospects for their center fielder when they can just recoup a
pair of high draft pick after the season.
Heyman says the Yankees will monitor the Cole Hamels situation, but we’ve already heard that they have “no intention” of getting involved in a bidding war. They’ve also scouted Francisco Liriano recently, presumably since he’s returned to the rotation and has pitched exceptionally well. With CC Sabathia due back tomorrow, David Phelps stashed away in Triple-A, and Andy Pettitte scheduled to return in September, New York shouldn’t be desperate to add a starter. Frankly they need another quality reliever more than anything.
Via Buster Olney, the Yankees have “no intention” of getting involved in the bidding for Cole Hamels unless the Phillies’ asking price dropped dramatically. The other day we heard that Philadelphia had begun to gauge trade interest in their homegrown ace left-hander.
We’re going to hear an awful lot of stuff like this in the coming weeks and almost all of it posturing. The Yankees have no reason not to say they won’t get involved unless the price drops and about a million reasons not to say they will get involved. At the end of the day, it’s all about putting yourself in the best possible position to negotiate. Saying you aren’t interested is the best way to do that.
Via Jon Heyman, the Phillies have begun calling around to gauge trade interest in free agent-to-be Cole Hamels. Philadelphia went 9-19 in June and is 11 games out in the division, so a full blown sell-off could be coming. That said, Buster Olney reports that the asking price is very high, as in four prospects (including a third baseman and outfielder) with multiple Grade-A guys. The 2010 Cliff Lee and 2008 CC Sabathia trades are obvious comparisons here.
Hamels, 28, is having yet another stellar season — 3.08 ERA and 3.28 FIP — and would be an upgrade to any rotation in baseball, including New York’s. The hole created by Andy Pettitte‘s injury makes the left-hander even more of an obvious fit. As Joe and I mentioned on Friday’s podcast, the Yankees simply may not have the pieces to deal for Hamels, meaning high-end prospects at the upper levels of the minors. I can’t imagine the Phillies wouldn’t take a package headlined by a bunch of Low-A kids for their homegrown ace no matter how good they are.
Throughout the 2011-2012 Hot Stove season we have frequently looked ahead to next offseason, with its presumed bumper crop of studly free agent pitchers, including (at the moment) Cole Hamels (age 29), Matt Cain (28), Zack Greinke (28), Francisco Liriano (29), Shaun Marcum (31), Brandon McCarthy (29), Anibal Sanchez (29), and Jonathan Sanchez (30). A handful of attractive names — James Shields (31), Gavin Floyd (30), Dan Haren (32) and Ervin Santana (30) — have club options, but said options are mostly reasonably priced and it seems unlikely that any of that quartet would be bought out.
Prior to the Big Trade, it was generally expected that the Yankees would be all over Hamels should he make it to free agency, and rightly so, as it’s not every offseason an elite left-hander makes it to the open market. The case for Hamels is a no-brainer: Since breaking into the league in 2006, Hamels is tied for the 13th-most valuable pitcher in all of baseball, producing a stellar 3.39 ERA/3.63 FIP/3.42 xFIP line over 1,161.1 innings with a beautiful 8.45 K/9 and 2.26 BB/9. The only left-handers ahead of him on that list are CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee.
So unless Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro somehow convinces Hamels to take a way-below market extension a la Jered Weaver — and it’s extremely difficult to envision this happening, as the numbers suggest Hamels could very well be in line for a $161 million CC Sabathia-type deal — or is able to convince Phillie ownership that they can indeed afford another $100 million-plus pitcher, next offseason’s pursuit of Hamels will likely rival both last winter’s Lee sweepstakes and the 2008-2009 Sabathia drama as one of the craziest ever. However, in the aftermath of the Montero-Pineda deal, an additional wrinkle has been thrown into the mix, namely whether the Yankees determine they can afford to add Hamels in light of all the talk of an austerity budget.
While I personally feel the Yankees would be nuts not to do whatever it takes to land Hamels, if they do decide the lefty is too pricey or doesn’t even end up becoming available, there’s another, arguably slightly better, younger (and perhaps most importantly, presumably slightly cheaper) option that seems an even surer bet to reach free agency next winter, and that’s former Cy-Young-award-winner Zack Greinke. While the lefty Hamels has commanded much of the attention, Greinke’s future availability seems to have gone somewhat overlooked, and so I thought I’d point out why he should be just as much of a Yankee target as Hamels, if not moreso.
For one, on that aforelinked list of most valuable pitchers since 2006, Greinke is above Hamels, checking in at 7th with a 3.41/3.14/3.39 pitcher triple slash in more than 200 fewer innings than Hamels along with a sterling 8.68 K/9 and equally drool-worthy 2.33 BB/9. Of those top 30 pitchers, the only hurlers with a higher K/9 are Tim Lincecum, Clayton Kershaw and Jake Peavy, and the latter hasn’t been at that level since 2009. The only ones with superior FIPs are Lincecum, Roy Halladay and Josh Johnson.
This past season, Greinke — always a strikeout-heavy pitcher — upped his game to levels of even more ridiculousness, leading all of MLB with a career-high 10.54 K/9. His 2.98 FIP was 9th in the league, while his 2.56 xFIP was first. These are big boy numbers, and the only reason you likely didn’t hear more about Greinke’s huge year was because he started the season injured and was also betrayed by his defense, as his 3.83 ERA was fueled in part by the second-highest BABIP (.318) of his career that helped fuel the third-lowest strand rate (a below-league-average 69.8%) of his career.
The following chart helps underscore just how good Greinke has been since breaking into the league full-time in 2004 (as always, click to enlarge):
An increase in K/9 every season save one? That’ll do nicely. As he’s matured as a pitcher, Greinke also brought his GB% rate up from the mid-30%s to a career-high (and above-league-average) 47.3% in 2011. Given Greinke’s dramatic improvements on what had already been several very good pitching performances, I was also curious to take a look at his stuff:
Greinke has three legitimate weapons against righties in his four-seamer, slider and curveball, each of which generate above-average Whiff rates. Somewhat unexpectedly, Greinke’s heater has lost about 1.5mph since 2009, although this hasn’t seemed to hinder its effectiveness, as his Strike% and Whiff rate has improved in each successive year, while his In-Play% is on a three-year decline. It’s helpful to know that Greinke doesn’t need to be routinely dialing it up to 94mph to be successful with the heat, although it’ll be important to keep an eye on that velocity this coming season to see whether it takes another dip.
Greinke doesn’t really throw his change to righties, and per the PITCHf/x data he appears to have added a two-seamer in 2010, although again, given the myriad classification issues that frequently arise when analyzing this data, it’s possible there are some four-seamers being misclassified. Although the extremely low Whiff rates on the two-seamer would seem to indicate that this pitch is indeed a sinker. He went from throwing it nearly 30% of the time to batters on both sides of the plate in 2010, to under 10% of the time last season — I’m not sure what to attribute the decrease to, as the sinker appears to have helped him generate more grounders, but perhaps it’s as simple as Greinke wanting to further diversify his arsenal.
As you might expect, Greinke’s Whiff rates aren’t quite as robust against lefties, though they’re still plenty high. What he’s missing in four-seamer Whiff% he more than makes up for in Changeup Whiff%.
In sum, we have a pitcher who misses a ton of bats, has a knockout slider to complement his blazing fastball, and who also appears to have added a two-seamer/sinker to his repertoire to help spike his ground-ball rate. So essentially, Zack Greinke is a right-handed, younger version of CC Sabathia. I think we’d all happily sign up for that.
Of course, the elephant in the room is Greinke’s social anxiety disorder. I’m not a psychologist nor do I have any way of quantifying how his mental state might impact his performance, though it’s been speculated by many that Greinke may not have the intestinal fortitude to flourish under the microscope on the biggest stage in the world in the Bronx. Brian Cashman essentially echoed that sentiment during last offseason as the Yankees passed on acquiring Greinke via trade, despite the pitcher’s apparent protestations that he was indeed cut out for and eager to pitch in New York.
Even if the Yankees — and presumably, other teams — have concerns over Greinke’s head, the fact that the cost of acquiring him is just money and not prospects should help ease some of the worry. It also may help knock his price down. While the numbers indicate Greinke should probably be paid as though he were CC Sabathia, the questions about his make-up may hinder him from reaching that financial plateau. If Greinke can be had for, say, $108 million over six years ($18 million per is probably a conservative estimate) however, his market could end up depressed if GMs are afraid to pay him like an elite pitcher due to any lingering fears about SAD. Per FanGraphs’ much-derided $/WAR calculation he’s been worth an average of $25.6M per season since 2008), I don’t see any rational reason for the Yankees not to run with that deal all the way to the bank.
One of Larry’s objections to the Pineda/Montero swap is the future availability of Cole Hamels on the free agent market. If the Yankees can pick up Hamels to slide in behind Sabathia, the argument goes, then perhaps they should have kept Montero to provide cheap production out of the designated hitter slot over the next few seasons. I wrote about Hamels last week, speculating that the Yankees might be preparing to make a run at him next winter.
Last Friday’s trade radically altered the landscape of the Yankees roster. In acquiring Michael Pineda from the Mariners, the Yankees acquired a potential number one or two starter with five years of cheap team control. According to well-sourced reporter Joel Sherman, the price was particularly important because the team is serious about getting under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014. With the new roster in place, it seems reasonable to wonder whether the team will be able to afford Hamels, or their own Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, and/or Nick Swisher, all of whom hit free agency in the next few years.
In projecting precisely whom the Yankees will be able to afford, it helps to have a handle on a reasonable estimate of future prices. Towards that end, I asked Joe, Mike, Ben, Moshe and Larry to all provide me their best estimates for what they expect Swisher, Granderson, Cano and Hamels to pull in in their new contracts. These were the results of our inputs:
Robinson Cano: AAV of $22.0M, high of $23M, low of $20M.
Nick Swisher: AAV of $12.67M, high of $15M, low of $12M.
Curtis Granderson: AAV of $17.0M, high of $18M, low of $15M.
Cole Hamels: AAV of $21.67, high of $23M, low of $20M.
I’ll be using these figures going forward, and also making a few assumptions about the future Yankees payroll. The first one is that the Yankees won’t allow Robinson Cano to leave via free agency. He’s a homegrown star at a difficult position to fill, and he’ll only be 31 when he hits the free agent market after the 2013 season. It’ll hurt, but I expect the Yankees to resign Cano at $22M per year, the average listed above. The second assumption is that Alex Rodriguez will hit his 660th home run this season, and will hit his 714th home run in 2014, thus triggering his second $6M bonus. The third assumption is that Russell Martin does not sign an extension with the Yankees, and that they’ll use Austin Romine by 2014. With this in mind, this is what the roster would look like heading into the 2012-2013 offseasons:
The specific names attached to the $500k salaries aren’t all that important, but the idea that a cheap player will occupy the fifth starter’s spot and most of the bullpen. Banuelos, Betances, and Warren are interchangeable with whatever young player your heart desires. The cost is important.
The Yankees will have roughly $40M to spend on their rotation, bullpen, center field, right field and designated hitter positions. If they pay Granderson $17M and Swisher $12M, they’ll have around $10M to fill out the final rotation spot and the bullpen. They could go with a cheap arm in the fifth starter position, fill out the back end of the bullpen with minimum salary guys, and sign a decent set up reliever. If they choose to let Granderson walk and sign Hamels and Swisher, they’d have about $7M left over for the center field position (or left field, if they shift Gardner to center), bullpen and DH. This would be difficult to pull off. If they chose to forgo both Granderson and Swisher and sign Hamels, then they’d have around $18M left for two outfielders, the DH and the bullpen.
There doesn’t seem to be any way that the Yankees can get under $189M with Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Cole Hamels all under contract at market rates. From a financial perspective, the “easiest” solution would be for the Yankees to acquire a cheap, cost-controlled outfielder (like a Domonic Brown) who could step in and fill Swisher’s role for cheap. This would allow the Yankees to move Gardner to center and allow Granderson to walk, replacing Gardner with a relatively cheap left fielder and spending big on Hamels and the bullpen.
Personally, I’d very much like for them to spend on Hamels, probably even at the expense of Curtis Granderson. The offense would take a bit of a hit, but the idea of a Sabathia-Hamels-Pineda-Nova rotation is enticing. That’s just me, though, so I’m providing the link to my Google Doc with all the relevant numbers. If you save your own version, you can edit and mess around with various roster scenarios and post your version in the comments. Any way you cut it, though, there are some very hard decisions ahead for the Yankees front office.
On Tuesday Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com reported that the Phillies and Cole Hamels were not likely to reach a long-term extension before the start of the season and were more focused on inking Hamels to a one-year deal in 2012, which represents his final year of arbitration eligibility and team control. While assistant general manager Scott Proefrock insisted that there is plenty of time to reach a deal at a later date, this admission represented the strongest possibility yet that Hamels would reach free agency after the 2012 season and hit the open market as the best left-handed pitcher, if not best overall pitcher, available. Salisbury mentioned that Jered Weaver’s five-year, $85M extension with the Angels would be a reasonable comparable for the Phillies and Hamels, but Hamels may have something far more lucrative and long-term in mind.
A lot of digital ink has been spilled and a lot of hands have been wrung lately over the Yankees insistence on watching their payroll. At this point, no one knows whether they’re serious about a long-term reduction in payroll towards a $189M target, or whether they simply have disliked the prices on the free agent market thus far. In the past, the Yankees have always shown a willingness to pay a premium for what they deem to be premium talent. Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett are all beneficiaries of this approach, and Cliff Lee could easily have joined them. The operative turn of phrase though is “what they deem to be premium talent”. Their approach towards middle-of-the-road talent is far more mixed. The team has been slow this offseason to pursue current available pitchers Hiroki Kuroda, Roy Oswalt and Edwin Jackson, and they avoided spending $80 or $100M on C.J. Wilson and Yu Darvish, respectively. Is this because they want to reduce payroll, or is it because they don’t deem them to be premium talent and want to keep their powder dry for bigger targets? No one seems to know.
If they’re keeping their powder dry for bigger targets, it would make sense why they haven’t been so eager to snap up one of the currently available pitchers. It would also explain their interest in a one-year deal with one of Kuroda or Oswalt, provided the salaries drop. It doesn’t mean that they’re cheap; it means they’re serious about getting good value for their dollars (A.J. Burnett laughs) and saving room for the players they deem to be truly worth a nine-figure investment. This is where Cole Hamels (or Zack Greinke or Matt Cain, if you prefer), come in. As pitchers go, Hamels would likely be the third best starting pitcher to hit the free agent market in the last decade, behind CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee. As Joe noted to me, one Hamels will actually hit the market with a better track record than Cliff Lee. He would end the Yankees pursuit of a number two starter behind Sabathia. In fact, his career performance really makes him worthy of the title of co-ace with CC: 8.45 K/9, 2.26 BB/9, 1.09 HR/9 and a 3.39 ERA. If you’re going to spend on premium talent, Cole Hamels is at the top of the list.
As the Yankees dance with Kuroda, Oswalt and Jackson over the next few weeks, it’s important to keep the long game in mind. If the team has no intention of moving the payroll permanently to the $225M+ range, then fans should root for them to preserve long-term payroll flexibility over the next ten months until Hamels becomes available. In fact, Joel Sherman noted that they appear to be doing just that and will be pursuing one year deals and one year deals only. If Kuroda or Oswalt can fit into this year’s budget as the team looks towards next winter’s bonanza, then great. If they sign elsewhere for $12M per year (an amount which would actually represent close to $16M to the Yankees with the luxury tax added in), then the team can make due with what they have now and retain the ability to add payroll in July or August via trade. Someone like Greinke or Cain could become available, or someone entirely unexpected such as Ubaldo Jimenez this past season. Regardless, there remains reason to be cautiously optimistic that this team’s rotation could see a temporary improvement this year and a serious long-term improvement next winter.
Moshe Mandel contributed to this post.
At this point four years ago, the Yankees faced a difficult choice. They were among the few potential landing spots for Twins’ ace Johan Santana. The match seemed perfect. The Yankees desperately needed an ace. They had just re-added Andy Pettitte, but they still needed someone to slot in ahead of him and Mike Mussina. Santana was there for the taking — Minnesota had made it clear that he would not be with them to start the season. But the Yankees had other plans.
Why trade prospects and sign Santana to a big money contract, when they’d have to wait just one year for another left-handed ace to hit the free agent market? And so they spurned the Twins and waited for CC Sabathia. That was a risky move for sure, but a calculated one. There was no way that Sabathia was signing an extension before his free agency. The Indians had offered him one, but it wasn’t even close to the offers he’d get after the 2008 season. There was also no chance they’d trade him before the season, because they were just one game away from the World Series in 2007. And so the Yankees waited.
We can look at the current market similarly, but it’s not at all the same. Yes, there are a number of high-end pitchers scheduled to reach free agency following the 2011 season. If this were 2008, and the circumstances were similar to Sabathia’s, the Yankees might be justified in sitting it out this winter, sticking with their internal options, and waiting to nab a starter from the free agent market. But as we saw with John Danks’s extension, this is a different game. There might not be any top-end starters left for the Yanks once the 2011 season ends.
Matt Cain: The Giants have some good and expensive pitching, but chances are they’ll work to hold onto Cain. Recent reports indicate that they’ll try to get something done before spring training.
Zack Greinke: He has the best chance of anyone to reach free agency, but it’s not clear if the Yankees consider him an option in New York. Still, a pitcher with his track record at age 28 could be enticing.
Cole Hamels: The Phillies have spent tons of money building their roster. Why would they hold back when it comes to an ace-level left-hander?
That’s the extent of the high-end pitchers on the market — guys who could firmly step into the No. 2 spot, or even the No. 1 spot, for the Yanks. There are some other decent names on the list, such as Anibal Sanchez and Shaun Marcum, but it’s more difficult to see them atop the rotation. These three best fit as top of the rotation arms. Yet once free agency begins we might see only Greinke on the list of available pitchers.
If the Yankees do desire one of these pitchers, they might have to get creative. That would necessarily involve a trade, though it’s tough to envision any of the three pitchers becoming available in a trade — at least before July. But, since this is the time of year when crappy trade proposals run rampant, perhaps we can find something here. In fact, Moshe and I independently formulated the same framework for a deal that would bring Cole Hamels to New York. So, please indulge us for a moment.
Philadelphia gets: Gio Gonzalez, Austin Romine, another non-top-5 prospect from NYY
Yankees get: Cole Hamels
Our trade proposal sucks. But let’s examine it anyway.
Why it works for Philly: Instead of getting one more year of Hamels and then getting six to seven expensive years of free agency, they get four years of Gonzalez at arbitration prices. They also get a few prospects to help replenish their system. Romine in particular could entice them, because their starter, Carlos Ruiz, is 33 this season. The additional prospect helps replenish their system.
Why it works for Oakland: They get an absolute haul for Gonzalez. In fact, that might be the weakest part of this deal (other than the Phillies actually trading Hamels, of course). They get Gardner for three arbitration years and Banuelos for six. Perhaps the Yanks could sub out Betances here, but it still seems unlikely. I can’t imagine Oakland saying no to this.
Why it works for New York: They get a second ace lefty to complement Sabathia. In fact, Hamels is quite similar to Sabathia in terms of their pre-free agency numbers. Through 2008 Sabathia had a 3.66 ERA and 3.62 FIP, while Hamels has a career 3.39 ERA and 3.63 FIP. There are certain differences among them — Sabathia’s pre-free agency numbers came in a tougher offensive era, and he was in the majors longer — but all told they’re fairly even. With one more season along the lines of his 2010 or 2011 seasons, Hamels will be a perfect comp for Sabathia. They’ll both even hit free agency after their age-28 seasons.
Why Philly won’t do it: Philly might have a lot of money on the books, but there’s little stopping them from extending payroll further. They know the value of making the playoffs, having been there every year since 2007. It helps them sell out every game and will lead to a huge TV rights deal, if they don’t already have one. Additionally, after 2013 they have a lot of money coming off the books, so extending Hamels could cause complications in just one season, 2013. Plus, there’s plenty of allure in retaining a homegrown ace. They would probably rather just extend Hamels.
Why the Yanks won’t do it: They’d essentially be trading their No. 2 prospect, their starting left fielder, and a good catching prospect for one year of an ace. Of course, an extension would have to be part of this deal, but that just gives the Yankees the right to pay Hamels $23 million per season for the next six or seven years. There’s a legitimate chance that they don’t want to get bogged down in that kind of contract. There’s also the matter of Banuelos. Do the Yankees think that he can reach Hamels’s heights? That’s a pretty lofty ceiling, as his career numbers show. If they do think he can reach Hamels levels, how long will it take? Can they put together a rotation between now and then that will keep them in the postseason picture? There are tons of question to ask along with this. And that doesn’t even get into the hole in left field.
To reiterate, this will not happen. I’m certain that the Phillies will sign Hamels long-term. I’m also certain that Brian Cashman will not pay this type of premium for a pitcher just one year away from free agency. If anything, the players involved in this deal illustrate the value of developing pitchers internally. The Phillies have gotten several good to excellent years out of Hamels. If they can swing their final year of cost control for another young lefty, plus prospects, that’s a huge win. Even if Banuelos won’t reach Hamels’ production, even reaching 80 percent of it would probably make him more valuable as a pitcher to the Yankees.
It’s easy to become antsy at this point. The Yankees have some flaws in their rotation, and we’d prefer to see those addressed before the 2012 season begins. But given the asking prices of available pitchers, it just doesn’t seem likely. After all, would you give up all that even for Hamels?
Joe wrote about the idea of trading for Cole Hamels yesterday, and explained why it’s extremely unlikely to happen. The Phillies are in win-now mode, and keeping Hamels in their rotation will help them a lot more than a fistful of prospects and mediocre big leaguers who plug holes. Kevin Goldstein wasn’t having any of that though (or at least his editors weren’t), so today we put together some trade packages that could pry the lefty away from Philadelphia.
He suggested the Phillies look for four pieces in return: a starter to replace Hamels in the rotation, bullpen help, middle infield help, and a low-level prospect with upside. You can read the article at either ESPN or Baseball Prospectus, but you’re going to need a subscription either way. Here is his suggested Yankees trade package….
Banuelos is one of the best left-handed prospects in the game and, like Hamels, his best pitch is a changeup, but Banuelos has plenty of other offerings. He should be ready at some point in the 2012 season, while Noesi can start or relieve right now. Williams is exactly the kind of young, athletic outfielder the Phillies covet, and Romine could develop into a replacement for Carlos Ruiz. “The Phillies need a long-term catcher, and their top catching prospect, Sebastian Valle, is not a sure thing,” said the executive.
So what do you think; too much, too little, just right? I’d prefer to swap out Banuelos and Noesi for Dellin Betances and either David Phelps, Adam Warren, or D.J. Mitchell, but that’s just me. The Yankees have catching depth and can afford to give up Romine, and I don’t really sweat losing kids in short season leagues, not even ones as good as Williams. He’s so far away, so much could go wrong. Yeah, it’s a lot to give up for one year of a pitcher, but Hamels is one of the best out there and he’s in his prime. Joe explained it yesterday, he’s basically another CC Sabathia, just four years younger.
Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Devils are the only local hockey team in action, so you’re going to be stuck entertaining yourselves tonight. Have fun, talk about anything here.
Need Help: Brian McElhinny, who runs the great Pirates’ blog Raise The Jolly Roger, is up for a scholarship and needs some votes. Please just take a second (it literally takes about three seconds) to go here and vote, it’ll be a big help. The poll closes one week from today. Thanks.
The aftermath of the Phillies signing of Jonathan Papelbon has produced a few predictable responses. Certain folks panned the deal, because they think that relievers, even closers, are fungible and that their volatility does not warrant long, lucrative contracts. Others praised Phillies GM Ruben Amaro for further shoring up his 2012 team and heading for another playoff run. Most relevant to the Yankees, speculation ran rampant about the Phillies’ financial situation. They now have $121.6 million committed to 11 players in 2012, with some big numbers due to Cole Hamels and Hunter Pence through arbitration. Might they be willing to deal Hamels, who will be a free agent next winter?
Yesterday Buster Olney (Insider-req’d) laid out a Hamels trade as one of the Phillies’ three options. The Phillies can hold onto Hamels for one more year and let him enter the 2013 free agent class, they can offer him an enormous extension, or they can trade him now and try to recoup some of his value — perhaps replenishing a farm system that they have somewhat depleted in the last two years while acquiring Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Pence. Yet the trade option seems entirely unlikely, given the current and future states of the Phillies.
The Phillies are, first and foremost, a win-now team. They have won the NL East every year since 2007, and for the last two years they have owned baseball’s best regular season record. In each of the three years following their 2008 World Series Championship they have raised payroll, adding $15 million in 2009, $25 million in 2010, and almost $28 million in 2011. As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer notes, it doesn’t appear that the Phillies will limit themselves when it comes to payroll issues. They sell out every game and led MLB in attendance last season. They pull better local TV ratings than any other team, which could lead to a huge media rights deal, perhaps larger than the one the Rangers currently signed. This all points to a rising payroll, perhaps even approaching pinstriped proportions.
Even if the Phillies realize that they don’t have the payroll to keep Hamels past 2012, trading him isn’t much of an option. A team in win-now mode cannot afford to deal a pitcher of Hamels’ caliber. Olney speculates that they’ll get 90 cents on the dollar if trading him this winter, but even that seems optimistic. Moshe recently wrote about the troubles of dealing for an ace. This applies directly to Hamels, whether or not you consider him a true ace (whatever that means). Look back at recent deals for aces: Johan Santana, Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, and Cliff Lee. How much are the players traded helping their teams? This matters even more in a Hamels deal, since he’s coming from a contending team. The Phillies need players who can help them win now, and even a package of three helpful players will not equal what Hamels can provide.
It is probably in the Phillies’ best interest, then, to retain Hamels for at least the 2012 season. In this scenario Olney warns that, because first-round free agent compensation could disappear next off-season, “they would run significant risk of watching a homegrown, talented pitcher walk away with almost nothing to show for it (other than their 2008 championship rings.)” That’s always a risk, for any team with an impending free agent. The Phillies, however, are in a position to add a 2012 championship banner, and they’re in a much better position for that with Hamels than without. Another championship could also further boost the team’s financial strength.
If the Phillies do wish to retain Hamels, chances are they’ll approach him this winter with an extension offer in hand. How much would it take? Hamels will be 29 in 2013, which makes him comparable to CC Sabathia in age and ability. From 2001 through 2008 Sabathia produced an ERA-* of 83. In his three years leading into free agency he produced an ERA- of 69, which was second best in the majors to Johan Santana (min. 450 IP). In his career to date Hamels has an ERA- of 80 and in his last two seasons it’s 74. Add in another high-quality season and he’s right at Sabathia’s level. On the open market next winter that could easily fetch him a six- or seven-year deal in the $140 to $160 million range. In buying out his last year of arbitration, perhaps the Phillies could get away with a seven-year deal in the $150 million range, or six years and $140 million at best.
*ERA- is like ERA+, but in reverse. It also creates easier comparison scales between players. That is, you can say that at an 83 ERA-, Sabathia was 17 percent better than average. This is not necessarily true of a 117 ERA+. If you want an esoteric explanation of why, read this article by Patriot.
And yet, it seems as though the Phillies have the payroll for that. They clearly have it this year; Papelbon’s salary merely replaces the departing Brad Lidge’s, so there’s no big change there. With Hamels at $23 million, the Phillies would have $118 million committed to six players in 2013, with Jimmy Rollins as a possible seventh player (likely bringing payroll to near $130 million). If that sounds awful Yankee-like, well, it is. They have $127 million committed to six players in 2013. With another sellout season in 2012, which is all but guaranteed, plus a deep playoff run, the Phillies could easily justify the continuing rise of their payroll into Yankee territory. If that is indeed the case, signing Hamels makes all the sense in the world. (Remember, Roy Halladay’s deal expires after 2013.)
The 2013 free agent market for starting pitchers once appeared a gold mine of talent. Little by little that will dwindle. Jered Weaver is already off the board, and Hamels could be next. That leaves Matt Cain, John Danks, Zack Greinke, and Anibal Sanchez: a good group, for certain, but not the class that we had once envisioned. There still remains the chance that Hamels reaches that point and becomes the most coveted starter on the 2013 market. But given the Phillies position that seems unlikely. They’re going to need Hamels in the future if they’re going to maintain their high payroll and winning winning ways. That means that they’ll almost certainly hang onto Hamels this winter, no matter what a few national writers might speculate.
It’s been a pretty busy week around these parts and we have quite a few mailbag questions to answer. I’m going to try to answer these as possible because we all know our attention spans aren’t what they once where. If you ever want to send in a question in the future, just use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar…
Bubba asks: What would it take to pry power lefty Matt Thornton from the Chicago White Sox to be our set-up man?
Probably more than it’s worth, really. The ChiSox don’t have a defined closer after non-tendering Bobby Jenks, and right now Thornton is in line for the job. He’s dirt cheap ($3M) and highly effective (2.14 FIP, 12.02 K/9 in 2010), and I can’t even remember the last time a reliever that valuable was traded with one year left on his deal. Maybe the best comparison is Mike Gonzalez, when he went to the Braves from the Pirates. He fetched a 28-year-old Adam LaRoche coming off a .379 wOBA season with 32 homers, and Gonzalez wasn’t as good then as Thornton is now. There were some incidental prospects involved, but no one major. Needless to say, it’s going to take an arm and leg to fetch Thornton, most likely more than I’d be willing to pay for a setup man, albeit a great one.
SNS asks: This may be jumping to far ahead. In light of the lack of availability of starting pitching out there, the one guy who jumps to mind is Cole Hamels. I know he is arb eligible after this year but given the fact that Hamels actually had a better bWAR last year than Lee and is significantly younger, what could he get in arbitration and how likely would the Phillies be to move him? I know they aren’t poor, but can they really afford Halladay, Lee, Howard (and even Oswalt)? While Hamels wouldn’t be available this year, could he be available next winter and how would he play in the Bronx/AL East?
You kinda sorta read my mind, I was thinking about Hamels when he becomes a free agent after the 2012 season. I can’t imagine the Phillies will trade him now, they’re clearly going all in before their core hits the inevitable decline, and I think it’s very reasonable to assume they’ll be going for it again in 2012. Philadelphia has $82.3M committed to just four players (Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, with some misc. buyouts mixed in) in 2013, but they’re also going to re-sign Jimmy Rollins and Brad Lidge between now and then. Hamels will still be just 29 at that time, and will surely be the best available pitcher on the free agent market.
Hamels is a fastball-cutter-curveball guy with arguably the best changeup on the planet, and I have no issues about him in the AL East. He’s like CC Sabathia in that he’s the kind of guy that can dominate any lineup at any time. He’s already got a World Series MVP and plenty of playoff experience to his credit, so I have no concern about his ability to deal with pressure. I would be stunned if the Phillies look to deal him before he’s eligible for free agency given the construction of their team, but if I was the Yankees I’d be licking my chops in advance of his free agency.
Harrison asks: A quick question with regards to Montero. Aside from the obvious benefit of giving him a little extra seasoning down in AAA, what other benefit might there be for keeping him down there for the first few months? I remember how a bunch of teams in recent years have kept their rookies down in AAA until May or June in order to prevent the arbitration clock from running (Longoria, Price, Posey, etc.). How would that work with Montero for instance?
A player can only accrue service time while in the big leagues or while on the major league disabled list, so teams have been keeping their top prospects in the minor leagues just long enough to delay their arbitration years and/or free agency by a year. It only takes about two weeks to delay a player’s free agency (so they can call the player up in mid-April and then control him for the next six-plus seasons), and about two months to avoid Super Two status (meaning the player goes to arbitration four times instead of three).
If the Yankees were to keep Montero in the minors until the first week of June or so, they could then retain him at close to the league minimum for the rest of the season as well as the 2012, 2014, and 2013 seasons. After that he would get three years of arbitration eligibility. If they called him up right away, they would only control him from 2011 through 2016 (first three years at the league minimum, next three via arbitration). The Yankees have more money than they know what to do with, but they can still benefit from delaying Montero’s call up by just two months. Getting production at a below market salary can only help.
Rafi asks: Mailbag: Given the Yankees’ (Cashman’s?) stance of not negotiating with personnel under contract, as well as what happened with A-Rod‘s opt-out, how do you see the Yankees handling [CC's] situation? They obviously can’t say that if he opts out they won’t pursue him, or they have a rotation on par with Pittsburgh.
The other day Buster Olney said that the Yanks should explore a contract extension with Sabathia now to avoid what will surely be a messy situation when he opts out, but that struck me as completely crazy. I don’t see any reason to assume that risk at all. I fully expect Cashman to stick to his policy of not negotiating with a player until the contract expires, like he’s done with everyone else, himself included.
What they do at that point really depends on their situation. A lot can change in the next eleven months, and that will dictate their course of action. If they’re happy with him and are willing to sign him for another six years or something, they’ll do it. If they’re wary about his workload and ability to be productive going forward, they might let him walk. It’s too early to know for sure, but I wouldn’t expect them to discuss a new contract with CC before he actually opts out.
Junior asks: What is John Danks availability and prospect cost? He is really good and as a lefty can dominate the lefty Red Sox.
Danks isn’t on par with Felix Hernandez or Josh Johnson, but he’s in the next tier. He’s going to earn close to $6M through arbitration next year and then about $9-10M in 2012 before becoming a free agent, so he’s cheap. The club tried to sign him to a long-term extension (they offered him and Gavin Floyd the same four-year, $15.5M deal before the 2009 season, but only of them took it), but Danks was a Scott Boras client at the time and those guys never sign away free agent years (he’s no longer with Boras, however).
I suspect that Danks will be the most costly of Chicago’s starters to acquire, since he’s excellent, young, and pretty damn cheap. He’s the future of their rotation with Mark Buehrle getting up there in years and Jake Peavy starting to rack up the trips to the disabled list, making him even more difficult to attain. A package headlined by Montero is not an unreasonable request, but I’m not sure if that’ll work on Chicago’s end since they just locked up a first baseman and designated hitter for the next three and four years, respectively. If they believe he can catch, well then we’re on to the something.
Anyway, the moral of the story is that it’ll cost an arm and a leg to pry Danks away from the White Sox. It absolutely makes sense for the Yankees to at least inquire, but like I said when I looked at Buehrle and Floyd, these two teams just don’t seem to match up well in the trade. The demands and supplies do not line up.