Sunday, July 26, 2015

And That Might Be A Wrap, Cole Hamels Edition

Also, the winner of the Phillies "Sam Winchester Cosplay Contest" six years running
Congratulations to Cole Hamels for throwing a no-hitter against his possible future employer, the Chicago Cubs, yesterday. Almost certainly the best pitcher the Phillies have developed since Robin Roberts (who else? Bruce Ruffin? Marty Bystrom? Tyler Green?), Hamels is wasted on a Phillies team that's going nowhere and won't be ready to contend for about another 3 years. He's also cost-controlled, with 3 more years left on his contract, and he's pretty durable, all of which make him an obvious candidate to be moved.  

Critics point out that his annual rate on the remaining years of his contract isn't much of a bargain, but they're missing the point. The point is that there are only 3 years at that rate left. Any deal you negotiate with a top of the line starter is going to start with 6 years, maybe 7 - you're paying for those inevitable years of decline on the back end in hopes of reaping extra benefit now.  By that logic, it doesn't matter that the Cubs are going to be paying Jon Lester $25M when he's 36 years old and likely to have lost a few ticks off his fastball if he puts them over the top this year or next. But those dollars still have to get paid, and a deal for a top-flight starting pitcher where you're not locked into paying for decline phase as a way of locking in the good years is incredibly valuable.

Those wacky critics are also fond of pointing out that Hamels' counting stats - specifically wins - aren't as good as they should be for someone with his stuff and experience. Which, if you look at the teams the Phillies have been running out there lately, becomes kind of understandable. Even the no-hitter was almost fouled up by center fielder Odubel Herrera's Magellan-like route to that final fly ball; other teams have actual center fielders, the Phils have a converted middle infielder Rule V pick out there because the alternative is the guy selling peanuts in section 112.  No offense & bad defense is a great way to artificially deflate win-loss records and artificially inflate ERA numbers. When you're hiding Ben Revere's defense in left to make sure you keep his bat in the lineup, you have problems.

And then there's the "ZOMG, THE PHILLIES ARE ASKING FOR ALL THE THINGS" line, which feels an awful lot like the guys who want to acquire Hamels negotiating through the media. Get the narrative out there that the Phillies are asking for a crazy amount of talent, get the pressure on to make a deal, and voila, you get a better deal. Except, of course, that Hamels is the Phillies' one good trading chip right now (No, Papelbon doesn't count, in part because he's expensive, in part because he's got limited utility and in part because he's an ass), and they need to get a very good return for him. To put it bluntly, the Phils have an awful track record when it comes to trading star pitchers - Travis Lee as the centerpiece of that Schilling deal, anyone? Philippe Aumont as the key to selling off Cliff Lee? If they botch this one, the fan base may actually set Citizens' Bank Park on fire. So why not ask for the moon? It only takes one trading partner to decide Hamels is worth it.

No, the only worrisome element in trading Hamels is this: He threw 129 pitches in his no-no. That's a lot of pitches. And yes, people who don't necessarily understand these things were yammering on about how he needed to make a good showing after his last couple of disaster starts to prove to people he could still pitch (nonsense - his velocity and break on his curve were fine even in the bad starts; all he needed to prove was that he was healthy, and his larger body of work took care of the rest), but, man, that's a lot of pitches, and for every Johnny Vander Meer there's a Johann Santana.

But regardless, if that was a finale, it was a hell of a mic drop. Hamels should move, he almost certainly will move this week, and that's as good a memory as possible for him to leave Phillies fans with.

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