The most anticipated deal of the last nine months has finally (probably) happened, with Cole Hamels moving from the Phillies to the Rangers and seven other players changing hands. While it hasn't been confirmed by the teams in question yet, it's been widely reported elsewhere, and the Mets aren't involved, so it's almost certainly a done deal. The full trade, with contract info for the big leaguers and positions, level, and scouting grades from FanGraphs' Kiley McDaniel for the minor leaguers:
To the Rangers: Cole Hamels ($100mm, 2015-2019*), Jake Diekman (entering first year of arbitration), $9.5 million in cash
To the Phillies: Jorge Alfaro (C, AA, 55 Future Value), Jake Thompson (RHP, AA, 55 FV), Nick Williams (LF, AA, 50 FV), Jerad Eickhoff (RHP, AAA, 45 FV), Alec Asher (RHP, AAA, 40 FV), Matt Harrison ($33m, 2015-2017**)
*Assuming Hamels' option vests; if not, and Rangers exercise team option, total commitment drops by about $5 million
**Assuming Phillies exercise buyout on Harrison's 2018 option
Back in April, when it became clear that Ruben Amaro wasn't going to trade Cole Hamels before Opening Day, the justification was that prices are often higher at the deadline. There are fewer potential buyers, but the ones that remain are much more confident in their likelihood of making the playoffs, and willing to pay a premium for help right now. Amaro was running the risk of Hamels getting injured and losing all his trade value, but the reward would be a better return from a team that knew it was a contender.
Or that was the assumption. Instead, Hamels was sent to the Rangers, who have about a seven percent chance of making the playoffs, including the Wild Card game. For context, that's half of the White Sox's odds, who really, really should not be buying. But despite not looking like expected, this trade makes a lot of sense for the Rangers and the Phillies.
Hamels is not like most pitchers being traded this deadline, in that he's not a rental. I don't want to dismiss the value he has to the Rangers this year -- a seven percent chance at the playoffs is not nothing, and even without making the offseason, simply putting a more enjoyable product on the field has real meaning to a team -- but unlike the deal for Johnny Cueto, or the presumably-impending deal for David Price, this trade is motivated more by the next three years than the next three months.
If the Phillies rebuild goes well, they could easily be competitive by the end of Hamels's contract: it was only two years ago that the Astros went 51-111, the same Astros that are currently a game up in the AL West and have playoff odds of almost 90 percent. But part of the reason the Astros' fortunes changed so rapidly is because they focused so relentlessly on the future at the expense of the present. Yes, the Phillies could probably make use of Cole Hamels's 2018 and 2019 seasons, but that requires "wasting" the first half of his remaining contract, when Hamels will be younger and presumably more valuable.
The Rangers, on the other hand, despite struggling this year, are poised to be competitive in 2016 and beyond. They are well-stocked with a number of young players, and have several major contributors due to return from injury by next year's Opening Day, including the mighty Yu Darvish. While they are not without holes, the major league team is on the upswing, and would probably be looking to sign a free agent pitcher this offseason.
That has been one reason for speculation that Hamels's return would be lighter than expected -- as a fairly compensated starter, teams are essentially choosing between trading for him or making a run at one of the aforementioned impending free agents. For the sort of teams that can afford Hamels, the preference is to spend money rather than prospects, but for the Rangers, that might not be an option. Texas has the second-highest park factor in the majors, behind only Coors, and it might be the sort of thing that encourages starters to sign elsewhere, and force the Rangers to at least pay a premium. Here's an MLB.com article from October 31st which says that the Rangers' offseason "begins with starting pitching." The Rangers went on to sign... does extending Colby Lewis count? In the previous offseason, the biggest starter that they signed was probably Joe Saunders. I think it's safe to say the Rangers might have a problem signing free agent starters.
That makes Hamels and his contract uniquely well-suited to the Rangers. Lest it be forgotten in all the discussion of prospects and win curves and contracts that Hamels is a really, really good pitcher, ranking fifth in total WAR from 2011 through 2015. While injuries can come out of nowhere, the best predictor of future health is past health, and Hamels has been really healthy, throwing an average of 213 innings in his last five full seasons. His K-BB% this year is higher than it has been since 2012, and would be the second highest of his career. Using the rest-of-season ZiPS projection puts him at 4.2 WAR for 2015, and it seems fairly safe to project him for 10-15 WAR over the remaining four years.
Cost was always the question with Hamels, however. As I said above, he was already fairly close to fairly compensated for the performance he provided -- at an average of $25 million annually, there wasn't much surplus value left on his contract. The Phillies mitigated that by sending cash to the Rangers, and taking dead money off their books in the form of Matt Harrison's $33 million contract. That brings the commitment to Hamels over the next four years closer to $60 million, and his performance and consistency are a steal at that price.
The Rangers sent a number of intriguing prospects in the deal, with no single headliner but several solid performers. Notably, those at the highest levels (Alec Asher and Jerad Eickhoff) are the ones with the least future value, which means the Rangers lost essentially nothing for 2016. This is a classic trade between two teams on different timelines, with the Rangers sending value for 2017 and beyond to the Phillies for a much more immediate return.
This trade is exactly what the Phillies should be doing -- leveraging their financial resources to stock up on quantity, some of which will turn into quality -- while it also gets the Rangers the starter they couldn't sign. This doesn't look like most deadline deals, not least because both sides appear to have made out really, really well.
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Henry Druschel is a Contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @henrydruschel.