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Cole Hamels trade analysis

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AJM tries to put together his thoughts on the Cole Hamels deal

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Cole Hamels trade analysis.  The Texas Rangers have acquired Cole Hamels from the Philadelphia Phillies in a mammoth, complicated deal that came out yesterday, and I'm still having a hard time wrapping my head around it.

I don't know that I can really offer much in the way of analysis.  A lot of people have said a lot of things already, and I feel like what I have to say on this is largely duplicative of other folks' thoughts.

And yet, I'm going to try.

Start off with Cole Hamels.  Cole Hamels is really good.  We can quibble over whether he's an ace or whether he's a #1 or whether he's a TORP, but whatever he is, he's a really good starting pitcher.  From 2007-2014, his lowest bWAR was in 2009, when he had a 1.9 bWAR.  His next lowest bWAR in that span?  4.1.  Over that 8 year span, Hamels has a total of 38 bWAR, an average of 4.75 per year.

To put that in perspective, since 2007, the Rangers have had just five pitcher seasons where a pitcher had at least 4.1 bWAR, and just three better than 4.75.  Cole Hamels' second worst season since 2007 would be the sixth best season (in terms of bWAR) a Ranger pitcher has had in that span.

Prefer fWAR?  Fine.  From 2007-2014, Hamels' lowest fWAR is 3.6, and he has a total of 34.5 fWAR, an average of 4.3 fWAR per season.

Hamels threw 183.1 IP as a 23 year old in 2007, and 193.2 IP in 2009.  Every other season since 2007, Hamels has had at least 200 innings.  So he's not just good, he's durable, and he's made it to the age of 31 without breaking.  The flip side of that is that some Rangers fans have complained he's been run into the ground, but there's nothing to this point to suggest that's the case.  He profiles like a rich man's Mark Buehrle, an efficient strike thrower who should age pretty well through his early 30s.

The Rangers are a better team with Hamels than without him.  The Ranger rotation for 2016, once Yu Darvish returns, shapes up as Yu/Hamels/Holland/Perez/Lewis (I'm betting Colby Lewis is back next year), with Nick Martinez and Chi Chi Gonzalez and Nick Tepesch behind them as depth.  That's as good a rotation as you're going to find in the American League.

Hamels is due $22.5 million per year through 2018, then has a $20 million option for 2019 with a $6 million buyout that vests at $24 million if he has at least 200 IP in 2018, at least 400 IP in 2017-18, and isn't on the disabled list with an arm injury at the end of 2018.  And if Hamels meets those criteria, you're probably going to be happy to pay him $24 million for the 2019 season.

However...while the Rangers took on $22.5M per year in salary for Hamels, they are also getting some salary relief.  The Phillies are reportedly kicking in cash in this deal that is, according to Evan Grant, $9-12M.  The Phillies are also taking Matt Harrison, who is owed $13M per year from 2016-17, with a $2M buyout for his 2018 option.

I've said that, between taking Harrison's deal and kicking in the cash, the Phillies financial subsidy ultimately means that the Rangers are, from 2016-18, effectively paying Hamels about $10M per year.  You can quibble with that, and say that Harrison's $13M shouldn't count towards that, but the end result is that adding Hamels is going to cost Texas $10M more per year that it would have cost if they'd not made the deal and hung on to Harrison.  But regardless, the Rangers just added a top of the rotation starter for well below market rate.

There have been some complaints about how the Rangers shouldn't have been seeking financial relief in this deal, that ownership should have sucked it up and not asked for cash or for Harrison to go because then the Rangers could have maybe kept a Jake Thompson or a Nick Williams.  I think there's a couple of things there to keep in mind, however.

First, to the extent the Rangers aren't spending money on Hamels, they can spend it somewhere else.  Whether that's on busting their J-2 pool next year or on bidding big on Justin Upton this offseason or simply on keeping Mitch Moreland this offseason rather than trading him, that's money available for other things.  And the front office clearly thinks that having Hamels, getting cash and parting with the heavy package of prospects is better than no Hamels.

Second, its not a given that the Rangers could have gotten this deal done if they hadn't parted with more prospects and gotten more cash back.  The reports have said, for over a year now, that Philadelphia wanted an enormous return for Hamels, and were willing to pay some of his deal to get an enormous return.  Maybe you could have saved Thompson by not putting Harrison in the deal...or maybe, Philadelphia simply put a greater value on Thompson or Williams or whomever, relative to what they were willing to spend, than Texas was.  But I wouldn't just assume the Rangers could have done this with no cash and no Harrison and consummated this deal with a significantly lesser prospect package going back.

The departure of Harrison in this deal makes me sad, and it reminds me, as I noted on Twitter, that this is a cold, cold business.  Harrison was a key part of two great Ranger teams, has missed most of the past three seasons with back problems, and had spinal fusion surgery that resulted in doctors giving him a rather slim chance of ever pitching again.  He could have packed it in, stayed home, and collected every dime of his contract.  But he worked, he busted his ass, he rehabbed, and he made it back out on a major league mound.  And the team that he worked so hard to perform for, after three starts, sent him packing, clearly indicating that they view him as a liability.  That has to suck for Matt.

I'm rooting for him, and I hope he does well.  This is a roll of the dice for Philly, and if he can do like Colby Lewis, and ultimately get back to being a solid pitcher, they'll have something with some value.  But from the Rangers' point of view, Harrison was superfluous if they had Hamels, and they weren't going to be in a position where they were likely to keep him in the rotation going forward with Hamels here.  It was a way for them to reduce the financial cost of adding Hamels by shedding a player they no longer had a place for.

Moving on...I've had to remind myself a time or two that this isn't a one player deal.  The Rangers also got lefthanded reliever Jake Diekman from the Phillies in this trade.  Diekman is 28, has a mid- to upper-90s fastball, a mid-80s slider, and poor control.  He has a career 11.68 K/9 rate and a 4.93 BB/9 rate, and has given up just 9 homers in 173.1 IP.  He's under control for three more years beyond this one, and while he may not prove to be worth keeping around that long, he's an intriguing arm for the pen, and someone who is probably isn't too far off in value to Jon Eickhoff and Alec Asher.  Between Diekman and Sam Freeman, the Rangers have a couple of lefty relief options that they have under control for a while who look like they can provide some value.

Now, the prospects the Rangers gave up...man, this is steep.  Nick Williams was a 2nd round pick in the 2012 draft, one of the high-upside guys they took that year, a guy who has big-time tools and big-time flaws, and who appears to have taken a big step forward this year.  I understand why people are upset he's in this deal.  But I also look at how the Rangers have Nomar Mazara as a more advanced, high-upside COF, and Lewis Brinson, who is a true CF, and Joey Gallo, who might end up in a COF spot, and Delino DeShields, who is just a year older than Williams and holding his own in the majors, and I see Williams as someone the Rangers can afford to part with in a deal like this.

Similarly with Jake Thompson...he is built like someone who can give a team 32 starts a year for a dozen years, and he has a slider that looks like a big-time pitch, and he can be a key cog in a Phillies rotation.  His departure is something we may look back on and regret.  But the Rangers also have Chi Chi Gonzalez, they just drafted Dillon Tate and Mike Matuella, they now have Cole Hamels and Derek Holland and Martin Perez and Yu Darvish in the majors under control for several years.  Thompson is someone who hurts to give up, but who you can afford to give up, given the state of the franchise.

Alec Asher and Jerad Eickhoff are nice pieces, but profile more as depth pieces for the Rangers.  Asher seems more likely to end up in the rotation than Eickhoff, Eickhoff has a better chance of being an impact reliever than Asher, both have a good chance of being major leaguers...but neither of them are the type of prospects who profile to be 6s.  They are the type of players that you want, and need, in your system, and who can play roles on winning teams, but they are also the type of players that quality franchises identify and develop and can replace.

Which brings us to Jorge Alfaro, a guy the Phillies have been asking for Texas for for over a year, a guy the Rangers have been grooming and developing and looking to as their catcher of the future, a guy the Rangers, I have to think, did not want to give up.  If there's a player in this deal who has the potential to make us look back and really, deeply regret this trade, it is Alfaro.  If he puts it all together, he can be a perennial All Star catcher.  He has a big time arm and big time power, and could turn into the next Lance Parrish, a cornerstone player on a great team.  But he also has a long way to go to get to that point.  He has some evaluators comparing him to Miguel Olivo.  He has questions about his receiving skills and his approach.  He is a high-risk, high-reward guy, someone with huge bust potential as well as huge upside.  He's the one guy in this trade who, I think, had to be in the deal to get it done.  If the Rangers wanted Hamels, and didn't want to part with Mazara or Gallo, they had to give up Alfaro.

And that's painful.  But if you're going to get someone like Cole Hamels, especially at what the net cost is, financially, the price to get him is going to have to be painful.

But just because its painful doesn't mean it isn't a price worth paying.  The great thing about where this organization is is, the Rangers can part with five prospects like this, and still have a really good, and deep, collection of young talent.

Here's a partial list of players 25 and under in the Ranger organization:

Martin Perez

Joey Gallo

Nomar Mazara

Delino DeShields

Rougned Odor

Chi Chi Gonzalez

Luis Ortiz

Mike Matuella

Dillon Tate

Keone Kela

Nick Martinez

Lewis Brinson

Andrew Faulkner

Jurickson Profar

Hanser Alberto

Yohander Mendez

Luke Jackson

And we can list another dozen or two players down on the farm who are noteworthy, who have value, who have a future, guys like Josh Morgan and Yeyson Yrizarri and David Perez and Ariel Jurado, guys who could get to The Show.

It is a credit to this organization and to this front office that the system is able to give up the type of talent necessary to add a Cole Hamels while taking on less than $40M in additional future financial obligations, and still be one of the stronger organizations in baseball when it comes to the farm system and young talent.

A big part of the reason why you want a strong farm system, and why you emphasize player development and amateur scouting, is so that, when an opportunity to get a Cole Hamels arises, you have the ability to make an enticing offer without decimating your farm system.  You can land a great player under team control for a number of years, and after parting with the package, still have your farm system be a strength.

We'll miss the guys the Phillies got.  We may look back on them in a few years and wish one or two or all of them were still in the organization, based on how they are performing in Philadelphia.

But the organization is still in a better place now, with this deal, than it was a few days ago.