Cole Hamels Rumors

West Notes: Street, Crisp, Athletics, Dodgers

Angels closer Huston Street spoke with Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca about his decision to ink a mid-season extension. Though he ultimately handed off the job of negotiating that deal to agent Alan Hendricks, much of the groundwork was laid by Street himself. He says the process was enjoyable, but noted that he learned from mistakes in how things were relayed to the media this spring. Street spoke at length about the compromises struck to reach the deal, explaining the “interesting crossroad to be fascinated by the money but also to not be driven by it at all.”

  • Athletics outfielder Coco Crisp is still struggling with the same neck issues that bothered him last year, but Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports (links to Twitter) that surgery is off the table. Normally, that’s a good thing, but in this case the issue is that a surgical solution would very likely end Crisp’s playing career. Ultimately, Crisp may need another DL stint but is expected to be able to play with the injury.
  • The Athletics are not interested in dealing catcher Stephen Vogt and are not moving now on pitcher Scott Kazmir, Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com reports“I’m not trading Vogt,” said GM Billy Beane. “Period.” As for the veteran lefty Kazmir, Gammons writes that Beane and co. had intended to make him a qualifying offer but could ultimately consider a deal — though they’ve not yet had any action in that area.
  • From the same report, Gammons says that the Dodgers are generating plenty of interest in their younger players from clubs that have pitching to deal. The PhilliesReds, and Athletics, among other teams, are “scouring” the Los Angeles farm, per Gammons. The veteran journalist also adds that some other executives think that L.A. could potentially make a run at Cole Hamels by dangling interesting utilityman Enrique Hernandez, pitchers Zach Lee and Chris Anderson, and catcher Julian Leon to Philadelphia. While Gammons does not make clear whether his sources suggest that package would be enough, it certainly seems at face value that Philly would demand a headliner to top things off.

Blue Jays Notes: Hamels, Travis, Kawasaki, Norris

Earlier this afternoon, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that the Blue Jays have reached out to the Phillies and inquired on Cole Hamels, but Shi Davidi of Sportsnet hears from a source that those discussions occurred months ago. The gap in talks isn’t exactly surprising, given that the reported outcome was that Hamels was unwilling to waive his limited no-trade protection to approve a deal to Toronto. Davidi reports that GM Alex Anthopoulos is unlikely to subtract from the big league roster to add immediate help, and he seems unconvinced that the Blue Jays would seriously consider parting with either left-hander Daniel Norris or right-hander Jeff Hoffman, both of whom are deemed vital components of the club’s future. Toronto has $5-8MM of available payroll to make in-season additions, per Davidi, so even if Hamels had been comfortable with a trade, the teams would still have some hurdles to clear in terms of salary. Hamels is earning $23.5MM this season — of which about $17.46MM remains.

Here’s more on the Blue Jays…

  • The Blue Jays announced last night that rookie sensation Devon Travis has been placed on the 15-day DL with inflammation in his shoulder. Travis’ DL stint is back-dated to when he last played on May 17. There’s no indication that Travis is slated to miss a large chunk of time, so it seems likely that he could return to the club in early June. In the meantime, Toronto has selected the contract of fan favorite utility infielder Munenori Kawasaki, who will join the club for tonight’s series opener in Seattle. The 33-year-old Kawasaki has batted .244/.327/.302 over the past two seasons in part-time duty with Toronto.
  • In a notebook piece from last night, Davidi writes that manager John Gibbons feels that Daniel Norris isn’t far from a return to the Majors. “His last outing was pretty good,” said Gibbons. “We just want to see that a couple of times, a few times maybe, for his own benefit. … We’re looking to get him back. He got here so quick, he started to struggle, you want to make sure what you did by sending him down was worthwhile, that he’s regrouped enough, instead of rushing him back.” Norris has a 2.50 ERA with 20 strikeouts against nine walks in 18 innings since his demotion to the minors.
  • Also of note on the prospect front for Jays fans, assistant GM Tony LaCava said that Jeff Hoffman’s pro debut was a success, as his fastball topped out at 99 mph and he was able to throw five innings in his first start. Hoffman, selected ninth overall in the 2014 draft, didn’t pitch for the Jays last season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. He was thought to be a potential No. 1 overall pick prior to his injury.
  • Davidi’s colleague, Ben Nicholson-Smith, hosted his weekly Blue Jays chat this afternoon and discussed a number of trade scenarios, R.A. Dickey‘s future with the team beyond 2015 and a the number at which Roberto Osuna‘s innings should be capped.

Heyman’s Latest: Hamels/Jays, Lucroy, Baez, Correa, Alvarez

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports has published the latest installment of his weekly Inside Baseball column, and he kicks it off by reporting that the Blue Jays have inquired on Cole Hamels. However, Heyman hears that Hamels was unwilling to waive his no-trade clause to allow a trade to Toronto, which is a blow for both clubs. The Jays desperately need help in both the rotation and the bullpen, and the Phillies, Heyman notes, would love to get their hands on young pitchers with the upside of Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris. The Blue Jays have a bit of financial leeway after going with inexpensive options at second base, center field and left field, and Heyman writes that the Blue Jays are expected to look at other potential front-line starters this summer as they become available. (He speculatively mentions Johnny Cueto and Scott Kazmir, though neither’s available just yet.) Additionally, Heyman notes that Blue Jays manager John Gibbons’ job is safe, as GM Alex Anthopoulos has a strong relationship with the skipper and recognizes that the team’s problems are roster-related and shouldn’t be pinned on Gibbons.

Some more highlights from the column, though it’s worth a read in its entirety…

  • The Braves are said to be disappointed in the play of Christian Bethancourt, even from a defensive standpoint, and recently inquired with the Brewers on Jonathan Lucroy. However, Atlanta executives were told by the Brewers that Lucroy isn’t available at this time. That the Brewers wouldn’t trade Lucroy isn’t a shock; he’s owed a very affordable $4MM in 2016 with a $5.25MM option for the 2017 season, so even if the team can’t quickly right the ship, he’d still have enormous trade value at the 2016 trade deadline. More interesting, to me, is that the Braves would so quickly look for an upgrade over Bethancourt and that they’re acting somewhat as buyers. Lucroy, of course, could be called a long-term piece that would be around to help the team when its rebuild is closer to completion. However, acquiring him would surely require the sting of parting with some of the key components of that rebuild.
  • Some rival execs feel that the Cubs are willing to part with Javier Baez and Dan Vogelbach in trades, in part because each was drafted under the previous administration and is not held in as high a regard by the new front office. Each player comes with issues, however, as Baez is trying to cut down on his swing and improve his contact skills, while a scout described first baseman Vogelbach as a “30 fielder” to Heyman (in reference to the 20-80 scouting scale).
  • There are members of the Astros‘ field staff that want to see Carlos Correa with the team right now, but Houston will likely keep him in the minors for another month or so in order to lessen the risk of Correa achieving Super Two status. I’ll add that the Astros will have a more legitimate claim that Correa still needs minor league time than other teams in similar situations have had in the past. Correa is still just 20 years old and has only nine games of experience at the Triple-A level, though he’s continued his brilliant work at the plate there, hitting .326/.362/.558 with a pair of homers. Also of interest to Astros fans — or to fans of teams needing outfield help — the Astros are on the lookout for starting pitching upgrades, and outfield prospect Preston Tucker “seems to be available.” Tucker recently made his MLB debut and has a .963 OPS through 34 plate appearances to go along with a strong minor league track record.
  • Marlins right-hander Henderson Alvarez has been pitching for years with a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, according to Heyman. Some have described it as a “90 percent tear,” but he’s been able to pitch effectively in spite of the issue. Alvarez wouldn’t be the first to pitch through a UCL tear; Ervin Santana and Adam Wainwright are both recent examples of pitchers who pitched for many seasons with partially torn UCLs. Wainwright ultimately underwent Tommy John, though Santana’s is said to have healed and is no longer an issue. In another Marlins-related note, Heyman hears that pitching coach Chuck Hernandez is “under the microscope” with both Jarred Cosart and Steve Cishek struggling greatly in 2015.
  • Brewers starters Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza have little trade value due to their 2015 struggles, but Lohse’s lesser financial commitment and superior clubhouse reputation give him more value. The team is reluctant to trade not only Lucroy, but shortstop Jean Segura as well. The Brewers are a bit more open to dealing Carlos Gomez than that pair, as Gomez is closer to free agency (he’s controlled through 2016).
  • The Mets remain reluctant to trade any of their top arms, as they’ve seen on multiple occasions how quickly Tommy John surgery or other injuries can thin out a club’s depth. (Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz have all had TJ in their careers.) The Mets are also not rushing to find a shortstop, but they have indeed been “all over the map” in terms of trade possibilities with the Cubs.
  • Coco Crisp‘s neck injury is apparently quite serious, and there’s a fear that the oft-injured Athletics outfielder will ultimately require surgery that could bring his season to an end.
  • The Blue Jays would still like to extend both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, but there have yet to be serious discussions with either slugger’s camp. Both players are controlled through the end of the 2016 season.


Cafardo On Phillies, Lohse, Royals, Leake, Haren

Here are a few highlights from Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe’s latest rumors roundup:

  • The Phillies have scouted the Red Sox‘ Double-A Portland team the past six days, Cafardo writes. The Red Sox have, of course, repeatedly been connected to Cole Hamels, although the Phillies have several other veterans who could also be trade candidates. Portland isn’t a particularly prospect-rich team right now, with many of the Red Sox’ best minor-leaguers at Triple-A Pawtucket or Class A Greenville. So it’s hard to say who the Phillies might be scouting, and it’s likely they aren’t scouting a potential centerpiece for a Hamels deal.
  • The Brewers are already prepared to trade starters Matt Garza and Kyle Lohse. At least one scout tells Cafardo that Lohse (who has allowed ten homers in his first 47 2/3 innings this season, although his strikeout and walk numbers have been fine) is in need of a “change of scenery.”
  • The Royals‘ bullpen this year has been terrific, but their rotation hasn’t. The Royals are looking for cheap starting pitching to help ease the burden on their bullpen caused by short outings from their starters (although any acquisition they might make right now would likely be minor, since they aren’t yet willing to trade for a starter).
  • Teams could see Reds starter Mike Leake as a very viable trade candidate. Leake is having a strong season so far, and it would likely be easier to sign him long-term than to sign his rotation-mate Johnny Cueto, so Leake could attract plenty of interest. Like Cueto, he’s eligible for free agency after the season.
  • If the Marlins‘ season doesn’t improve, they could easily trade Dan Haren to a team on his preferred coast, Cafardo writes. Haren’s desire to play in California is well known. He’s in the midst of a good season (3.70 ERA, 6.1 K/9, 1.7 BB/9), and any number of teams out west could have interest.

Heyman’s Latest: Tulo, Soriano, Correa, Garza, Segura, Mets

The latest installment of Jon Heyman’s weekly Inside Baseball column is up over at CBS Sports, and Heyman begins by addressing the Troy Tulowitzki trade talk that has once again surfaced. Heyman, like many others, feels the time has arrived for the marriage between Tulo and the Rockies to come to an end, but neither Tulowitzki or owner Dick Monfort wants to appear to be the “bad guy” in the situation. Heyman hears that Tulowitzki would prefer to play for the YankeesGiants, Dodgers or Angels if he is traded, though one person who knows the shortstop well told Heyman that he may ok with the Mets, Cardinals and Red Sox as well. Tulowitzki’s preferred destination is largely a moot point though, as his contract doesn’t have a no-trade clause. Heyman notes that in a year’s time, Tulowitzki will receive 10-and-5 rights, allowing him to veto any deal. That reality only furthers Colorado’s need to move Tulowitzki, Heyman opines. Heyman also lists 11 clubs that he could see making some degree of sense for the face of the Rockies’ franchise.

Some more highlights from a lengthy but always-informative column…

  • The Cubs “may consider” Rafael Soriano at some point as a means of lengthening their bullpen, according to Heyman. I’d note that while the team has looked a bit thin beyond Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop, the Cubs just got Justin Grimm back from the disabled list and likely won’t be without Neil Ramirez for too much longer.
  • Astros top prospect — and arguably the top prospect in all of MLB — Carlos Correa could be up to the Majors within three weeks, one Houston source estimated to Heyman. Also of note on the Astros front, he writes that a pursuit of Cole Hamels would appear to be a long shot, but Scott Kazmir (Houston native) and Clay Buchholz are names to keep an eye on for Houston, should either become available.
  • Kyle Lohse seems like a natural candidate to be traded this offseason, but the Brewers are particularly interested in shedding Matt Garza‘s contract. The right-hander is guaranteed $12.5MM in 2015 and will earn the same rate in each of the following two seasons. Neither pitcher, however, has been particularly impressive for Milwaukee.
  • Jean Segura is one of the players that the Brewers have the least interest in trading, but Heyman hears that the Padres would be interested, should Brewers GM Doug Melvin entertain offers. San Diego likes Alexi Amarista but prefers to use him in a utility role rather than as a starter.
  • Rival teams seriously doubt that the Mets would ever consider parting ways with Noah Syndergaard, but there’s “a little hope” that the team could be persuaded to part with highly touted left-hander Steven Matz in a trade. Heyman adds that the Mets are going to remain patient with Wilmer Flores as their shortstop for the time being.
  • It’s been reported that Yunel Escobar wanted no part of playing with Oakland, and Heyman hears that the reasoning was as simple as the fact that Escobar is very particular when it comes to geographical preferences and wanted to remain on the East coast. A trade to the Nationals accomplished that goal.
  • The clause in Alex Guerrero‘s contract that allows him to opt out of his deal and elect free agency at season’s end, if he is traded, hinders his trade value. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but given the presence of Guerrero and the versatile Justin Turner, Juan Uribe could end up as a summer trade candidate for the Dodgers.
  • In some agency news, Heyman reports that Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius will now be represented by Casey Close of Excel Sports Management — the agent for Gregorius’ predecessor, Derek Jeter. Gregorius had previously been repped by the Wasserman Media Group.

NL East Notes: Strasburg, Soriano, Hamels, Aumont

Over at Fangraphs, Jeff Sullivan takes a look at the cause of Stephen Strasburg‘s uncharacteristically slow start for the Nationals. As he explains, batters have teed off on Strasburg when he is working out of the stretch. It is impossible to pin down the exact issues, of course, but Sullivan explains that — as pitching coach Steve McCatty believes — lingering side-effects of an offseason ankle injury may still be impacting Strasburg’s mechanics. Obviously, Strasburg is in no danger or need of being replaced in D.C., and he remains an over-scrutinized pitcher. But both player and club obviously have some work to do to get him back on track.

Here’s more from the NL East:

  • The Marlins pulled out of their pursuit of free agent reliever Rafael Soriano because of their assessment of his likely impact more than the money involved, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro reports (Twitter link). Of course, it is nearly impossible to separate talent assessment and cost entirely. After all, Miami presumably wouldn’t hesitate to add Soriano on a league-minimum contract. But the Marlins could well have determined, whether based on scouting him last year or learning more about his current status, that Soriano did not warrant any kind of significant outlay.
  • Phillies ace Cole Hamels has turned things around after a slow start, as MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki writes. The southpaw has allowed just 2.72 earned runs per nine over his last five starts, Zolecki notes, and turned in a nice, nine-strikeout outing last night. All said, Hamels’ trade value remains as robust as ever as the summer draws near.
  • After failing to stick as a big league reliever, Phillies righty Phillippe Aumont is impressing as a starter at Triple-A, Zolecki reports. The only remaining piece of the Cliff Lee trade, the 26-year-old had seemed destined to be a disappointment but is showing some life in the upper minors with a 1.36 ERA over 33 innings (7.6 K/9 vs. 3.5 BB/9). “Phillippe told me he’s extremely happy to be back in the rotation,” Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan tells Zolecki. “He looks like it. There’s a tempo to what he’s doing. He used to take forever between pitches. He’s crisp. He has some big misses, but he gets right back in the zone. Seven strong innings today, really. He had an above-average, maybe well above-average fastball. Above-average breaking ball. Two Major League pitches.”

Quick Hits: Cubs, Dodgers, Martin, Rays

The Cubs‘ pitching staff is having trouble this month, and it’s unclear where help will come from, Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago writes. It isn’t the best time of the year to make trades. While the Phillies likely don’t feel they have to wait until the trade deadline to make a Cole Hamels deal, such a trade might be easier for the Cubs to strike after some time to make sure they’re contenders. And finding relief help in the trade market will likely be more straightfoward later in the summer. Rafael Soriano is available via free agency, but the Cubs aren’t likely to sign him unless they’re more impressed with him than other teams have been. Here’s more from around the big leagues.

  • Closer Kenley Jansen‘s impending return from a foot injury will result in a tough decision for the Dodgers, whose bullpen has been terrific in his absence, J.P. Hoornstra of the Los Angeles News Group writes. The Dodgers reliever who’s gotten the worst results has been Chris Hatcher, so he might seem like the most obvious candidate to come off the active roster, although he’s out of options and was only recently acquired via trade. (Also, his 13.5 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 and mid-90s velocity strongly suggest the Dodgers would be unwise to give up on him too quickly).
  • 30-year-old Nationals rookie reliever Rafael Martin has a highly unusual background, Lacy Lusk writes for Baseball America (subscription-only). The Southern California native spent four years after high school working in construction, then ended up in the Mexican League as the result of a tryout. After three years in Mexico, he signed with the Nationals in 2010, then toiled in the high minors, struggling with injuries before pitching brilliantly at Double-A and Triple-A last year. The Nats finally purchased his contract last month, and he whiffed five straight batters in his first big-league appearance.
  • The Rays have a winning record so far this season despite their rotation being decimated by injuries, Andrew Astleford of FOX Sports Florida writes. It’s helped that they’ve gotten remarkable performances from Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi, who have stayed healthy the entire season. Nate Karns has also gotten reasonable results in seven starts, and Alex Colome has pitched well in two. The team has also already leaned on Erasmo Ramirez, Steve Geltz, Matt Andriese and the now-injured Drew Smyly to start, meaning they’ve already used eight starters even though the season is less than six weeks old.

Heyman’s Latest: Hamels, Astros, Hinch, Greinke

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman touched on many topics in his latest “Inside Baseball” column, and since we’ve already focused on Heyman’s notes about the Brewers, let’s look at some of his other hot stove info from around the league…

  • The Astros will be looking to add one or even two starting pitchers, though Cole Hamels is “too pricey” for them, according to one team source.  MLBTR’s Steve Adams recently explored the case for Houston going after the Phillies southpaw, and 42.44% of MLBTR readers polled thought that the Astros should indeed pursue Hamels.
  • Rival executives aren’t bothered by Hamels’ sub-par performance this season since all of this trade speculation is assumed to be impacting his work.  Executives “seem to be split on” whether the Phillies are making the right move in holding out for a blue chip prospect or two in exchange for Hamels, or if they should just be looking to get his big salary off the books for a lower return of young talent.
  • A.J. Hinch’s deal with the Astros is a three-year contract with a club option for 2018.  The exact dollar figure isn’t known but Heyman reports that the average annual value is less than $1MM, which could end up being a bargain given how Houston has thus far played under Hinch’s management.
  • While Zack Greinke is expected to opt out of his contract at the end of the season, Heyman doubts he’ll leave the Dodgers since they certainly have the money to sign him to a new deal.
  • One scout suggests that Javier Baez might need “a change of scenery” to get back on track.  Baez struck out a whopping 95 times in 229 plate appearances with the Cubs last season, and only has a .755 OPS at the Triple-A level this year.  Baez is only a year removed from being considered an elite-level prospect, so while it seems early to consider trading him, Chicago is already deep in young middle infield talent.
  • The Rangers are willing to deal Shin-Soo Choo, rival executives believe.  This is no surprise given Choo’s huge contract and underwhelming performance in Texas, though obviously those same issues will make dealing him a tall order.  Heyman notes that the Yankees were interested in Choo when he was a free agent two winters ago, though even if Choo turns it around, I’m not sure I see New York taking on a big contract when they already have a pretty full outfield.
  • The Cardinalswill rue the day they made that trade” of Shelby Miller and prospect Tyrell Jenkins for Jason Heyward and Jorden Walden, in the words of one scout.  Heyman feels this is a bit of a stretch, even though Miller has been outstanding for the Braves and Heyward has struggled for the Cards (and Walden is on the DL).
  • Veteran Andruw Jones isn’t yet planning to retire, though he won’t play in 2015.  Jones has played in Japan for the last two seasons and expressed interest in a return to Major League Baseball this winter, drawing interest from at least two teams, including the Indians.  According to Heyman, Jones turned down minor league contract offers from multiple teams.

Should The Astros Pursue Cole Hamels?

Cole Hamels‘ name has been on the trade market for the better part of a year, but despite reported interest from teams such as the Red Sox, Rangers, Cardinals, Dodgers, Padres and others, the 31-year-old ace remains in Phillies pinstripes to open the 2015 season. The expectation is that Hamels will once again frequent the rumor circuit this summer, and many of the aforementioned clubs figure to be mentioned as suitors. Struggles in the Red Sox’ rotation and injuries to the Dodgers should place them among the most oft-mentioned suitors, but with an 18-8 start under their belt, the Astros merit consideration as a potential landing spot.

Yesterday, when looking at some items from around the AL West, I briefly explored the idea of a Hamels-to-Houston move when discussing the idea of the Astros making an early move to fortify their rotation. As Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle pointed out, both Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs have the Astros’ playoff odds listed at greater than 50 percent with their 18 wins already banked and the second-place Angels trailing by seven games. While an elite bullpen (2.13 ERA, 2.81 FIP, 2.87 xFIP) and an offense that has collectively batted .247/.324/.446 (good for a fourth-ranked wRC+ of 113) have paired with a decisively above-average defense, the team’s rotation has has been less impressive.

Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh have continued their 2014 breakouts and stepped into the No. 1 and 2 slots atop the rotation, but the collective contributions of Scott Feldman, Roberto Hernandez, Sam Deduno, Asher Wojciechowski and Brad Peacock have yielded just a 5.05 ERA. Feldman’s track record of solid innings and contract will keep him locked into a rotation spot, barring injury, but aside from him, there’s little certainty in the team’s remaining rotation options.

Deduno’s solid 2013 effort was bookended by a pair of replacement-level showings. Hernandez was reasonably effective with the Phillies last season, but he hasn’t been a reliable rotation arm since he was still known as Fausto Carmona. Wojciechowski and Peacock are both prospects that have proven little at the Major League level, and neither Dan Straily or Brett Oberholtzer (rehabbing from a blister issue) has ever handled a full big league workload.

While we can make the case that the team has enough arms to patch its way through the season with this mix, the rotation appears to be the clearest spot for an upgrade. Indeed, GM Jeff Luhnow has acknowledged as much, saying yesterday that the rotation is the team’s only “obvious” area to make an addition. He also hinted that the club may ultimately look to add at the top of the rotation rather than just settling for a back-of-the-rotation option. As Luhnow put it, “there are scenarios where we would continue to invest in this team as the year goes on in order to maximize our chances of not just getting to the playoffs, but being better in the playoffs.” 

There’s certainly an argument to be made that a less expensive veteran such as Kyle Lohse would be a better target for the Astros, but Houston showed little interest in giving up talent for one-year rentals this winter when it acquired a long-term piece in Evan Gattis. They, in fact, traded a rental by moving the final year of Dexter Fowler‘s contract for Luis Valbuena and Straily (and replacing him cheaply via free agency with another rental, Colby Rasmus). Perhaps if the price is right, that would end up being the preferred route, but with an Astros team that is seemingly on the brink of what it hopes will be a sustainable run of contending seasons, there may be some additional value placed on adding Hamels at a below-market rate as opposed to spending heavily in free agency this winter on the likes of David Price, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann, etc.

The Astros aren’t known as big spenders, but they invested $62MM in Major League free agents this offseason — the 13th-largest sum of any team — and they can’t be criticized for not trying to spend more. Houston reportedly made the largest offer for Andrew Miller and aggressively pursued David Robertson, only to see each sign elsewhere. They also appeared set to add Ryan Vogelsong late in the offseason before questions regarding his physical resulted in a decrease in their offer.

Nonetheless, the $96MM in guaranteed money remaining on Hamels’ contract (not including an option that could invest and bring the guarantee to $124MM) is certainly a level of spending that we haven’t seen the Astros approach since escaping the tail end of what was a disastrous $100MM contract issued to Carlos Lee by the previous front office/ownership group. However, if the sum is daunting for owner Jim Crane, the Phillies have expressed a willingness to include money to facilitate a trade. And, as MLBTR’s Jeff Todd explained on Opening Day, the Astros have the second-lightest swath of long-term commitments among all MLB clubs, with only the A’s having a clearer payroll in the years to come. Houston, then, is arguably better-equipped to add a hefty contract like the Hamels pact than the Red Sox or Dodgers, both of whom would acquire Hamels with the added cost of serious luxury tax implications.

As far as prospects are concerned, there’s no question that the Astros’ farm system has deteriorated a bit following the trade for Gattis and the promotion of George Springer (among others). However, ESPN’s Keith Law still ranked them third, even after the Gattis swap, and Basebal America ranked them a less-impressive 14th late in Spring Training. Carlos Correa is among the game’s very best prospects, and while he’d surely top GM Ruben Amaro Jr.’s wishlist when discussing Hamels deals, I’d imagine the Astros consider him untouchable. Moving on from Correa, however, the Astros have a host of Top 100 prospects, with Mark Appel likely considered the second-best among their ranks. Appel ranked between 30th and 35th on the Top 100 lists of BA, Law, MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus, while Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel ranked him 18th entering the season. A deep farm system beyond that top two reveals the likes of Vincent Velasquez, Colin Moran, Michael Feliz, Domingo Santana, Josh Hader and Brett Phillips, among others. And while parting with a significant portion of that talent would come as an unequivocal blow to their organizational depth, the Astros are positioned to add more high-impact talent in this year’s draft, with two of the top five picks and four of the top 46.

I’ll be the first to admit that this is a somewhat reactionary response to a 25-game sample, but with 18 wins accounted for, the Astros could play sub-.500 baseball (68-69) over the rest of the season and still finish with 86 wins. Another five months of ~.500 ball will have them firmly in the mix for a playoff spot. At that point, an early or midseason swap of Hamels for the group of occupants that would’ve otherwise provided innings from the fifth slot in the rotation could prove an upgrade of two or three wins.

Hamels, of course, hasn’t looked himself to open the season, but his 91.5 mph average fastball velocity is in line with his 2012-13 levels, and a fluky homer-to-flyball ratio has plagued him thus far. Overall, his bottom-line results through six starts aren’t entirely dissimilar from the first six outings of his 2014 campaign. Perhaps the one area for concern with Hamels is his increased walk rate, but with a rebound in his control, Hamels still appears plenty capable of providing a significant jolt to any big league rotation.

With my perhaps unnecessarily long-winded preamble aside, let’s open it up to public debate…


Cafardo On Hamels, Rays, Red Sox

The Phillies are “waiting with open arms” to find the right trade for at least one of their big-name veteran players, a major league official tells Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe.  That list of big names, of course, includes ace Cole Hamels, though Jonathan Papelbon and Chase Utley could also be moved, Cafardo writes.  Amaro recently told reporters that he’s willing to eat part of Hamels’ contract in a trade if necessary, and that could help bring about a deal for the Phillies.  More from today’s column..

  • Major league sources tell Cafardo that the tampering investigation brought by Rays owner Stuart Sternberg against the Cubs for their hiring of Joe Maddon was reopened when Sternberg objected to the original verdict.  In the end, however, it was found that there was no tampering in the negotiations.
  • Marlins GM Dan Jennings thought he had trade possibilities for catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who was designated for assignment last week. He’s currently in the 10-day limbo period in which he could be traded, claimed, or put on waivers.
  • Scouts are still waiting for Red Sox outfielder/first baseman Allen Craig to bust out and it appears Boston is going to play him more to boost his trade value.  Cafardo notes that Craig has historically hit well in the month of May.
  • The Red Sox are trying to create roster versatility by using players at different positions. Shortstop Deven Marrero is the team’s latest experiment after seeing time at second base. One NL scout isn’t so wild about the concept. “He’s a terrific athlete so he’ll do well at the other positions, but this is the type of guy where you know he’s a terrific shortstop so why mess around with that?” said the scout. “He’s got high confidence as a shortstop and now you’re reducing that confidence level by making him play positions he’s not used to.