Exploring the Hamels-to-Dodgers trade possibility

Exploring the Hamels-to-Dodgers trade possibility
July 29, 2014, 12:15 pm
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Cole Hamels is 5-5 with a 2.72 ERA in 18 starts this season. (USA Today Images)

National reports surfaced Monday night that the Phillies "have made Cole Hamels available" and the Dodgers are interested. It makes sense since L.A. is one of few teams -- maybe the only team -- equipped with the finances and elite prospects to pull off a blockbuster for the Phils' lefty ace.

But, as colleague Jim Salisbury has said all along, the Phillies will need to be bowled over to trade Hamels.

The Dodgers have a package that may force the Phillies to listen. They have an outfielder, an infielder and a young southpaw who, if acquired, would likely become the Phils' top three prospects.

Back on July 16, we ran the following piece (updated with current stats) examining the Dodgers' top prospects and why they'd make sense for the Phillies:

* * *

Cole Hamels is the most attractive trade piece the Phillies have to offer. He's 30 years old, he's having his best season since 2011 and he's playoff-proven.

Hamels will be owed at least $103.5 million from Aug. 1 through the end of 2018.

Enter the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team equipped with the money and prospects to pry Hamels away from the Phillies.

The Dodgers entered this season with a payroll of $230 million. When you spend that much, anything less than a World Series title is a failure.

Approximately $50 million will come off L.A.'s payroll next season, so they could certainly fit Hamels in. Josh Beckett's $17 million will be off the books, as could the combined $20 million the Dodgers are paying Dan Haren and Brian Wilson.

Hamels has made Philadelphia his de facto home. But he's a Southern California kid, so a team like the Dodgers would be one of the few he'd likely consider leaving his comfort zone for.

Do the Dodgers need Hamels? It's an interesting question. When you reach a certain point with payroll and expectations, you have to do anything and everything to better your chances at winning it all. The Dodgers haven't won it all since 1988.

A 1-2-3 of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels would be so good that it would be almost unfair to the rest of baseball. That's easily the best rotation in the game and one that every other NL playoff team would be frightened to face in a short series.

At 59-47, the Dodgers already have the best record in the National League. But even after their weekend sweep of the Giants, they hold just a two-game divisional lead over San Fran, which currently holds the NL's second wild-card spot. It's an extremely tight playoff picture, so it's not as though L.A. can feel completely comfortable with its roster in its current state.

The Dodgers' biggest need right now is starting pitching. Haren has struggled lately and is being skipped in the rotation this week. Beckett has made just one start since returning from the DL. L.A.'s lineup is filled and there's really no bat on the market worth trading for.  

If the Dodgers do make a play for Hamels, it would have to begin with outfielder Joc Pederson.

There have been rumblings around baseball that the Dodgers will not trade Pederson, who continues to mash no matter what level he's at. The 22-year-old has played each outfield spot and hit .318/.450/.585 with 22 homers and 55 RBIs in his first full season at Triple A.

Full disclosure, Pacific Coast League numbers are always inflated because of the way the ball travels out there and the small dimensions of the ballparks. But Pederson has been great everywhere, hitting .305 in 411 minor-league games with a very impressive .406 on-base percentage and ever-present power.

The Dodgers have a perceived outfield surplus, but it's really an overblown issue. Yasiel Puig is the only true everyday talent in that outfield. Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier are nice, if overpaid players. Carl Crawford can't stay healthy and is no longer productive. Scott Van Slyke is a bench bat, not an everyday outfielder.

So it makes sense that L.A. wishes to hold onto Pederson. For one, they'll need the outfield help. They'll also need to have an inexpensive everyday player somewhere.

But if you're the Phillies, there's no way you trade your lefty ace in his prime unless you bring back a game-changing prospect. Pederson is just that, and he'd also fill the Phils' biggest need.

Shortstop/third baseman Corey Seager is another player in the Dodgers' system to keep an eye on. The younger brother of Mariners stud third baseman Kyle Seager, Corey was L.A.'s first-round pick in 2012. He's still just 20 years old and destroyed the competition at High-A Rancho Cucamonga this season -- hitting .352 with a 1.044 OPS, 34 doubles, 18 homers and 70 RBIs in 80 games -- before being promoted to Double-A Chattanooga. Again, those California League numbers are skewed. But still, very impressive for the 6-foot-4 left-handed hitter who was rated the game's 34th-best prospect by MLB.com entering the year.

Left-handed pitcher Julio Urias is another standout prospect in the Dodgers' system. Urias made it to the Futures Game at age 17, which is unheard of. He's a 5-foot-11 southpaw who throws in the low-to-mid 90s and has shown a decent curveball and changeup. Urias' youth is appealing because, at this rate, he could be ready for the majors by age 19 or 20.

Jim Bowden of ESPN.com several weeks ago proposed a trade of Hamels for Pederson, Urias and 27-year-old second baseman Alex Guerrero, who signed a big deal out of Cuba but has been supplanted by Dee Gordon. Guerrero has raked in the minors and would be a very appealing infield option for the Phils.

That package seems almost too good to be true, especially if the Phillies want to avoid paying half or more than half of Hamels' remaining salary in a trade.

It does show, though, just how much Hamels is worth, and how drastically a Hamels-to-L.A. trade would shift the balance of power in the National League.

* * *

There is no guarantee that Pederson, Seager and Urias all pan out. There is no guarantee any of them do. That's the nature of dealing for prospects and that's why the Phillies need quality in quantity if they decide to move Hamels.

Keep in mind the Dodgers also have bullpen issues. The former closer carousel has not worked in the eighth inning for the Dodgers -- Brian Wilson, Chris Perez and Brandon League have each disappointed. Perhaps packaging Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon to L.A. makes the Dodgers more receptive to parting with their highly touted trio.

Papelbon won't waive his no-trade clause unless his new team plans to use him at closer. The Dodgers could by shifting former setup man Kenley Jansen back to the eighth inning. It's a way to add bullpen depth and starting pitching depth in one big move.

If the Phillies pick up about $5-10 million of Hamels' remaining money and some or all of Papelbon's deal, it's a trade the Dodgers have to think about. L.A. would be mortgaging the future for the now, but isn't that what a team spending more than $230 million should be doing anyway? The Dodgers have a huge payroll but a slim lead in the standings. This one would put them over the top.

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