The dealing’s done, and somehow, Rangers GM Jon Daniels walked away from the table with Ruben Amaro’s ace.
In the months (and even years) leading up to this season’s trade deadline, Cole Hamels had been linked to virtually every team in contention, but at the end of every trading period before this one, for one reason or another, he stayed up Ruben Amaro’s sleeve. Amaro seemed to want the whole farm for Hamels, and when that wasn’t on the table, neither was Hamels.
Then this year, almost inexplicably, Hamels was linked to the Rangers in trade talks. It seemed an unlikely destination for an ace. The Rangers were outperforming expectations, but still crippled by injuries to key contributors like Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, and Martin Perez. Hamels could help the Rangers make some noise, but seemed unlikely to put them over the top. Still, there appeared to be at least the beginnings of a discussion. The Rangers had a cupboard full of prospects—all varieties. Hamels wasn’t a one-year rental; he’s signed through 2018. And as it came to pass, after what must have resembled an all-night poker game, Amaro blinked.
At the outset, it looks to be a pretty fair trade. It’s not exactly what Amaro wanted, probably, but it may have been just enough. The Rangers give up, according to Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel, the organization’s #3, #4, #9, #17, and #23 prospects in RHP Jake Thompson, C Jorge Alfaro, OF Nick Williams, RHP Jerad Eickhoff, and RHP Alec Asher. That’s a pretty good haul, but what’s missing here is your prototypical “can’t-miss” prospect. There’s upside and projection, but nobody here projects to be better than an above-average player, and that’s the best-case scenario.
Let’s start with the highest-rated prospect in the deal. Jake Thompson projects to be a third or fourth starter, with only an above-average fastball and slider and slightly below-average command. In 17 starts at Double-A Frisco this year, Thompson has put up a 4.72 ERA, 3.83 FIP, 8.0 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9. He’s not setting the world on fire. McDaniel scouts him as a future value (FV) of 55, which is a tick above average.
Jorge Alfaro is the sexy prospect in the trade, with all the physical tools scouts love. He has plus raw power, a plus-plus arm, and even runs well. So far, though, he’s raised questions about his makeup, his defense (framing at least), and his ability to hit a baseball consistently. This year (also at Double A), he’s hit .253/.314/.432, striking out about 30% of the time. Those numbers have been consistent over his minor-league career, and without a step forward in plate discipline, you have to wonder if he’s going to have much success against big-league pitching. McDaniel hangs a 55 FV on him, too, but considers him a high risk to flame out.
Nick Williams is the guy who has put up the best numbers in the group so far, hitting .299/.357/.479 at Frisco this year, with 13 homers. That line is consistent with his play at other levels, and this year, he’s cut his K rate by about 10% and upped his walk rate. McDaniel correspondingly upped his preseason grades on Williams to 70 raw power (30 HR potential) and 55 FV (up from 50).
Eickhoff and Asher, the other two pieces, look like filler. Eickhoff has hit 96-97 at times, but otherwise has average stuff, and seems to have the ceiling of a fifth starter. Asher hit 96 mph, and, according to McDaniel, flashed a plus slider (for which, alas, he seems to have lost his feel). The numbers for both in the minors have been pretty ugly thus far, but they certainly could be useful bullpen pieces if they can step up their command a bit.
In return for those five prospects, Jon Daniels gets a bona fide ace, fresh off a no-hitter that showed us Hamels’ best self: a lefty with good command who can hit 95 with his fastball, get swings and misses with his curve, and annihilate hitters with his change. He has ups and downs, though, and this year has pitched to a 3.76 ERA/3.34 FIP, with 9.4 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9. ZiPS projects him to put up a 3.40 ERA/3.49 FIP the rest of the way, with slightly fewer strikeouts. Hamels is under team control through 2018 at $22.5 million a year, with a club option for 2019 after that. He’s clearly an investment and not a rental, and that’s why he makes sense for a team that most likely won’t play their way back into the playoff picture this year. Over his career, Hamels has put up a 3.31 ERA/3.47 FIP, with 8.6 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9. He’s been remarkably consistent, with only one down year (in 2009), which you can hang on a .317 BABIP. Barring injury, he’s a good bet to age well, because of his plus command and pitchability. He’s Cole Hamels, and he should be for a while.
In addition to Hamels, the Rangers also get a real interesting arm in Jake Diekman, who can proudly say he’s the subject of this .GIF, courtesy of Baseball Prospectus’ Sam Miller. As noted by Grantland’s Ben Lindbergh on a recent Effectively Wild podcast, “he strikes out everyone, walks everyone, and gives up a lot of ground balls.” In numerical form, that looks like this: 11.64 K/9, 5.59 BB/9 and a 53.8% ground-ball rate. He’s big (6’4”), left-handed, and routinely runs it up there at 97 mph. If Mike Maddux can do anything to help him get those walks down and locate the ball a little better, Diekman could be a real nice bullpen piece. Last year, he struck out 100 batters in just 71 innings, albeit with a BABIP of .363.
The Wild Card:
As part of the deal, the Phillies also get/take on Matt Harrison and his contract. Neck and back problems have kept him from pitching more than a handful of innings since 2012, but he’s owed $13.2 million each of the next two years. His new manager, Pete Mackanin, has already indicated he doubts Harrison will pitch again this year, after throwing only 16 innings thus far. This smells like a salary dump, maybe as a way for Amaro to get back one more prospect than Daniels wanted to give up.
Although some pundits, like Tim Cowlishaw, are sounding the “buyer beware” alarm on Daniels, suggesting he’s “risking it all,” and going so far as to call him “desperate,” it looks to this writer like a win for Daniels. Amaro seems to have gotten enough, or at least all he could for Hamels, but in holding onto prospects like Nomar Mazara, Chi Chi Gonzalez, and Joey Gallo, Daniels appears to have retained everyone he really prioritized. Each prospect he dealt away comes with his share of question marks, and the players he held onto have fewer. Although Amaro walks away with plenty of potential value, Daniels has plenty of upside left on the farm and shouldn’t feel as if his cupboard is suddenly bare. He dealt from surplus and got back something that’s very hard to get: a bona fide ace under team control for, potentially, four years. And, in shedding Harrison’s dead weight contract, he effectively gets a significant discount on the first two years of Hamels’ contract.Next post: BttP Podcast: Ep 29 – Matt Jackson & Nick Strangis
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