MLB Trade Rumors: Cole Hamels, Texas Rangers starting pitcher, has been the subject of trade rumors for a while, with the New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers all bandied about as possible destinations. Hamels has a certain amount of control over the trade process, as he can veto deals to 20 teams, and Ken Rosenthal says that Hamels will likely want his $20 million team option for 2019 picked up as part of any deal that involves him waiving his no-trade provisions.
Hamels is making $23.5 million this year, with $2.5 million believed to be paid by the Philadelphia Phillies, and has a $20 million vesting option in 2019 with a $6 million buyout. The vesting option requires Hamels to have 400 innings pitched in 2017-18, and as he only had 148 innings pitched last year, he almost certainly won’t reach that benchmark, which means that whatever team has him at the end of 2018 can bring him back for $20 million for one season, or cut him loose for $6 million.
The market for Hamels is hard to gauge, because while he’s a big name with a top of the rotation starter’s resume, he’s 34 years old now, and hasn’t pitched like a legitimate TORP the last couple of years. Hamels spent some time on the d.l. in 2017, and put up a 4.20 ERA with 69 earned runs allowed (heh heh heh) with a 4.62 FIP. In 2018, his ERA has come down to 3.86, but he’s got a 5.37 FIP, and is allowing 1.9 HR/9 IP while leading the majors in batters hit, with 10. The question that you have to ask is whether he’s simply having bad luck with his HR/FB rate (at 20.5%, he’s tied for the fourth highest percentage of fly balls going for home runs this season among qualified pitchers, trailing Bartolo Colon, Masahiro Tanaka and Brandon McCarthy), or whether the inflated HR/FB percentage and high HBP total is indicative of an aging pitcher who can’t command his pitches anymore.
That said, Hamels is a veteran with a quality reputation and extensive post-season experience, and in a market where there aren’t a lot of great starting pitchers that are expected to be available, there will be teams interested in trading for him. Rosenthal quotes Jon Morosi as saying that the teams that he can not veto a trade to are the Mariners, the Cardinals, the Nationals, the Astros, the Cubs, the Phillies, the Braves, the Royals and the Rays -- the first seven of those teams are currently playoff contenders, though it remains to be seen whether they all stay in the playoff hunt, and not all seven are going to be in the market for a pitcher like Hamels. Teams like the Yankees, the Brewers and the Dodgers, who appear likely to be in the market for starting pitching and who are currently in the playoff hunt, are on the veto list.
The other factor in play with Hamels is how much the Rangers would be willing to eat of his remaining contract obligation in order to facilitate a deal. The current team has a payroll lower than the past couple of years, and isn’t going likely to be adding big-budget players this summer, so it conceivably has the payroll flexibility to subsidize some of the remaining salary due to Hamels in 2018, as well as the $6 million buyout for 2019, in order to facilitate a trade. Rosenthal notes that that would seemingly be a prerequisite for a team like the Yankees, who are bumping up against the luxury tax, to acquire Hamels. That would give the Rangers a better potential return in terms of prospects, as we saw happen the other direction in 2016, when the Yankees paid most of Carlos Beltran’s remaining salary in the deal that sent him to Texas at the deadline.
If, in fact, the Rangers are willing to pick up the $6 million buyout, which they’d be on the hook for anyway if they didn’t trade Hamels, a team acquiring Cole would seem likely to be willing to exercise the 2019 option, since they would effectively be getting him for one year at $14 million — particularly a team like the Brewers, who made some big moves in the offseason with an eye towards opening a window of contention that would include 2019, and that has a need for starting pitching.
Ultimately, I think this adds a moving part to the Hamels trade talks, but I don’t think it ends up being insurmountable. I don’t think Hamels will bring as much in return as, say, Yu Darvish did at the deadline last year, but I think he’s still an attractive trade piece who will be one of the better starting pitchers available at the deadline, and I think the main question on the quality of the return will end up being how much the Rangers are willing to pay down on his deal.