The Phillies are rebuilding. 2015 is a lost cause, 2016 too. 2017, maybe they’re hunting the wild card if everything breaks right.
The team is old, not terribly productive, has very little upside, and the talent they do have is not cheap. No one expects their rebuild to be pretty. There’s really only one jewel on the team, one player where there has been plenty of interest–Cole Hamels. Everyone can agree that the contending teams could stand to improve their pitching via trade. Everyone agrees these teams have the resources to make it happen. Everyone agrees these teams would be improved specifically by adding Hamels, and that some of these teams could afford to take on his complete salary of $22.5 million through 2018, with a 2019 option.
The Phillies have named their price. They’re rebuilding, so they don’t need Hamels. They’ve asked for, reportedly, at least one top prospect close to the majors as a starting piece for any given package. It seems like they saw what the A’s gave up for Samardzija last year, thought “well we’ve got a left hander who is under contract for another 4 years!” and figured they should be able to get more.
Michael Baumann wrote a great piece for Crashburn Alley this off-season about why the Phillies DON’T need to trade Hamels. His reasoning has essentially been echoed by Ruben Amaro Jr, starting from the position that the Phillies do not have any financial restrictions. The need to rebuild is purely based on the need for future talent, not budgetary restrictions. Hamels is their best asset, so they aren’t going to trade him just because. They have named a price, and they’re going to try to wait the market out. Today, Boston thinks Blake Swihart is too much to give up for Hamels. Today, the Dodgers think Corey Seager or Julio Urias are too much to give up. One injury or dead arm or implosion, though, and suddenly the market could be far more receptive to dealing from that top talent. If Tampa is ahead of Boston in the AL East in July, the benefit of that ace down the stretch could be enough for Boston to reconsider the terms they’ve been sticking too all season. This is the Amaro logic. And while it’s incredibly unusual to read anyone defending Amaro logic, in this case it is incredibly relevant to fantasy owners entering a rebuild.
If you’re in a keeper or dynasty fantasy league, chances are some day you’ll decide to undergo a rebuilding process. Rebuilding a dynasty team is about the only thing more fun than actually contending, and if you’re in a league more than 10 teams deep there’s nothing worse than being stuck in the middle for years on end, never really contending, and never getting the draft picks that could make a major difference. The desire to rebuild can be strong–it can be fun to stock up on promising prospects and plan ahead to the next draft, constantly wheeling and dealing in your league. It’s early May, and maybe you weren’t sure before opening day whether you would rebuild (or go all in), but now you’re sitting in the bottom half and thinking about cashing out.
And maybe Ruben Amaro Jr. can teach you a thing or two.
Before we begin, if you are not sure whether or not to rebuild–or how to go about rebuilding– start with this excellent series at The Dynasty Guru. That’s the complete course on rebuilding. This is just a supplemental ancillary. We’re starting from the assumption that you’ve acknowledged you won’t contend this year OR next year without serious changes to your team. Go and read that Dynasty Guru series because in order to finish this article you need to know:
- Your competitive window (next year? 2 years from now?)
- Your roster breakdown– who is before their prime (i.e. under 27), in their prime (27-31), or past their prime (31+)
- The talent level of your roster
- Salary/contract conditions (if applicable based on your league format)
Let’s think about how Cole Hamels fits in this picture.
Let’s start from who Cole Hamels is. Your fantasy team may not have Cole Hamels, but it very likely has a “Hamels type.” In fact, even if your team DOES have Cole Hamels, he might not BE a “Hamels type” in your format. This is confusing until you think about what Cole Hamels represents. Michael Baumann’s article linked above lays out these qualities, and I’ll borrow them here and describe their fantasy relevance.
If you’re in a keeper league or any league with a contract system, think of this as a player whose keeper value (draft slot or auction cost) is cheaper than his actual value over the foreseeable future. Any player on your roster who is likely to outproduce his cost for this and the next several seasons fits the bill here. If you’re in a league that doesn’t have any sort of keeper or contract limitations, this can be represented in projectability, discussed below.
He could be on the next good version of your team
I’m of the belief that, unless you’re in an incredibly deep league with a very weird format, you should never set a competitive window more than 2 years in the future. If you look at your roster and think there isn’t a chance you’ll be in the top 5 in 2 years, you either lack imagination or there have been some terrible mistakes from you or the previous team owner. So looking 2 years ahead, do you project this player to be not just a productive member of your team but potentially a star? A lot of this has to do with age and projectability.
If you have a “pre-prime” or minor leaguer, i.e. anyone under 26 or 27 this season, then he absolutely could be on your next good team. The question is just whether he will still be good. If he’s a minor leaguer, is he close to the majors and a top 100 name on more than one prospect list? If he’s a major leaguer, can you imagine him being played every day on a team in 2 years (that is, not benched or platooned against unfavorable matchups)? Is this someone you can leave in your lineup every day/start for the next 2 years without worry? If so, you’ve got a Hamels.
Risk of injury or decline is overstated
If you’re rebuilding, people are going to try to talk you into trades. You probably have lots of things they want, and you have lots of things you need. Chances are they are going to point out all of your players’ flaws. Are you trading a pitcher? Pitchers break, they’ll say, so you should adjust YOUR value accordingly. Are you trading a hitter over the age of 27? He’s going to decline soon, they’ll say, so take whatever you can get for him.
This is where you can quote Ruben Amaro Jr. shamelessly: “The reality is this: There are a lot more chances for the … other teams to get people hurt than the one or two guys that we have. That’s basic math.”
There are many ways to rebuild
The Astros and Cubs have popularized the complete tear-down, stocking up on high draft picks for multiple years until they have farm systems that lead Jason Parks to speak in single-entendres. You can rebuild without having all the top prospects. You can rebuild by finding the holes in your league and exploiting them. Are all other teams going after prospects? Consider moving pieces for veterans who are going cheap. Is pitching undervalued in your league? Stock up there. Learn your league’s format in and out–scoring categories, lineup rules, everything you can. Figure out how to moneyball your league, and set your sights on the strategy and players who can help you do this. If your Hamels type can help you accomplish this goal, he becomes that much more valuable to you.
Remember that you are the rebuilding team, which means you are probably going to end up with the number one or two overall pick in next year’s draft plus all the other pieces you pick up through other trades. Those are all valuable assets, and when the other team is trying to get your Hamels for $0.50 on the dollar, consider that he might value your draft pick or one of your other pieces more than you do. He doesn’t know your plan, and he doesn’t know that just because you’re rebuilding you don’t have to sell everything that isn’t nailed down.
You’ve got to make this one count
This is the big one. Set a realistic goal for your Hamels type, based on at least some precedent. The Phillies can get away with holding out for a package based around a Swihart or Seager top-10 prospect type because that market was set last year at the trade deadline by Oakland and other teams moving pieces for aces.
Independent of any offers, look at your Hamels, think about his present day value and what you project for him over the next 2 years. Think about how you’re going to rebuild. Think about the sort of offer you would accept for your Hamels. Look at expert rankings, understand your league economy, and set your sights on what you feel is a realistic best case trade scenario. Feel free to broadcast this to the league. People will try to negotiate it with you, to drop your price. Don’t budge. Feel free to build a package that gets you what you want, with your Hamels as your centerpiece if that’s what it takes to get to your goal, but don’t budge on your asking price.
The secret to this is to set expectations grounded in reality. Look at the trade history in your league based on players ranked similar to where you value your Hamels–do teams tend to give up too much or too little for pitchers compared to, say, outfielders. Look at the depth of the league–are all top 100 prospects owned each year? Read this excellent piece by Eno Sarris about trading Mike Trout in a dynasty league. You don’t want to set an asking price so high that it makes you an unattractive trade candidate. Look at competitors’ rosters and imagine what you would be willing to give up for your Hamels if you were in their position. Go check out the ‘Trader’s Corner’ series at The Dynasty Guru and look over the trades rated there, and figure out what looks fair to you. The key here is to focus on player types, not individual player names. If you decide you will only deal your Hamels for Mookie Betts, you have limited yourself to deals with one team. If you’ve decided you will deal your Hamels for a young, projectable outfielder who could rise to a top tier over the next 2 years plus a young SP 2/3 type (say, Dalton Pompey and Marcus Stroman), you’ve set a goal that multiple teams can bid on or try to beat. And if your team allows trading draft picks, make sure you get one of those too!
Is the market likely to change?
The Phillies can wait out the market because they know it’s far more likely for teams to get desperate in July than it is for Hamels to get injured or seriously decline. His value will increase.
If you’re rebuilding, you hold all the cards. The other team needs your guy more than you need theirs– you’re not going anywhere, and they’re going to get desperate. If they don’t get desperate, there’s someone else competing with them who might be. Don’t sell your Hamels just to sell him, wait until you know you’re getting what you want.
Those are the components to help identify who your Hamels might be. To recap, it would be a player who:
- Is likely to significantly outproduce his auction cost or keeper slot for next year
- Projects to be valuable to YOUR team in 2 years
This is probably a player in his mid 20s to early 30s, likely one of the top tiers at his position. Your Hamels might be a 2nd outfielder or SP3, but it’s probably not your backup catcher or SP5. This is a player who you can afford to hold onto as long as it takes to get what you expect in return for him, and if you never get that return you’re still not suffering
If you’ve made the decision to rebuild your team, you probably have at least one Hamels around. Maybe it’s actually a Joey Votto, or a Jacoby Ellsbury, or a Matt Carpenter, or a Starling Marte. It’s probably a top 15 at his position or top 25-75 player overall. If you have more than one player of this type, all the better.
The Phillies will continue to get grief from the media and fans of other teams until they finally move Hamels, because everyone loves to see a blockbuster trade. But the media and fans can forget that the Phillies don’t HAVE to sell just because they have something others want to buy. Ruben Amaro Jr. has said as much. You could learn a thing or two from him if you pay attention.
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