Bob Ford: Hamels looking more and more like trade bait

Posted: July 03, 2012

The news, or at least the reported news, that the Phillies are shopping the name of Cole Hamels on the baseball trade market is not very surprising. Whom are they going to call teams about, Jake Diekman?

There is also a very big difference between shopping the name of Cole Hamels and shopping the actual guy. It is the act of putting bait in the water to see what rises to the surface. It is exactly what Ruben Amaro Jr. is supposed to be doing, since he doesn't seem very busy doing anything else. Aside from having noticed that interleague play ended and it was time to trade Jim Thome, the desk calendar hasn't been very crowded.

Unless, of course, this is not a drill taken from Page 112 of the General Manager's Manual.

The real possibility exists that the Phils are not merely hoping some team decides to empty its farm system in exchange for Hamels, but have made their own decision and will be willing to trade the 28-year-old lefthander for the best available offer, whatever that might be.

If so, the main reason will be that the team has determined it will not be able to re-sign Hamels once he slips into free agency. After the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the Phillies will have forfeited what little leverage they still have. By trading Hamels ahead of that (for a fistful of top prospects if the report of their hoped-for asking price is accurate) the Phils get something instead of nothing, which is always preferable.

If that scenario plays out, he would be traded to a contender looking to solidify its rotation for a run at the World Series. As usual, it would be silly to think the New York Yankees wouldn't be a logical bidder. The Yankees make a habit of such things.

The other potential reason for moving Hamels, and it is mutually exclusive of the first, is that the Phils think they can re-sign him to a long contract but don't want to. Why? Because the organization looks at the aging state of its roster and thinks it will take three or four years to rebuild. Spending $20 million to $25 million a season during that interim to keep Cole Hamels on a .500 team is a little steep.

Assuming the Phillies are serious about trading Hamels, it is for one of those two reasons, but most likely because their best guess is that he will walk on them at the end of the season.

To figure out why would take having been in on the contract negotiations and also sitting in on the internal organizational meetings. The easiest thing to do, however, is to look at it from the perspective of Cole Hamels.

Hamels is in the prime of his career, still young, and will probably never be more valuable on the open market or more able to pick his spot. He is an elite pitcher, has answered any lingering questions about his physical condition or his toughness, and figures to be dominant for the life of his next contract. That's an attractive commodity, and he knows it. Even if he is traded, unless he signs with the team that acquires him, he still becomes a free man at the end of the season.

What does Cole Hamels want? It's not all about money, because his market value is what it is. Give or take a little, he's going to get that $20 to $25 million a season for five or six years. That's going to happen whether he's in Philadelphia or New York or the Molly Pitcher rest stop on the Turnpike.

So what does Cole Hamels want? I think we know him well enough by now to know that, Southern California cool or not, he wants to win very badly. He wants to win more championships, he wants to win Cy Young Awards. He wants to put his name somewhere other than on an application form for a Swiss bank account.

What else? Well, he has a wife who is an actress and has indicated she wants to return to acting. Two of the teams that will be interested in Hamels as a free agent are located in New York and Los Angeles. That sounds like a fit, or at least a better fit than waiting around for the next Tastykake commercial or living your life on Amtrak and USAirways.

Anything else? Well, the guy is from California, and Dodger Stadium is a great place to pitch, and that franchise has got it going again. A very good fit. By comparison, Hamels can look at the Phillies with a cold eye and see that the needle isn't pointing up. If he really wants to win, the Phils aren't a great bet for the next several years.

That said, there is still one other possibility. The Phillies think they can sign him, think they can continue to contend every year, and Hamels agrees with them, or doesn't care about that. He just wants to stay.

Unfortunately for fans who don't want to lose Hamels, that possibility seems the least likely of all.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com, read his blog at philly.com/postpatterns, and follow on Twitter @bobfordsports.

 

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