Cole Hamels: Will the Phillies Third Ace Stay in the City of Brotherly Love?

Wednesday May 16, 2012

Bryan Sheehan (Baseball Writer): Cole Hamels has been with the Phillies Organization since he was drafted by them in the first round of the 2002 draft, when he was just 18 years old. He made his debut with the club at the age of 22, and won the World Series in 2008, taking home the Series MVP award after two solid performances (his second start was cut short by the infamous rain delay that cut Game Five into two parts). Now 28, Hamels is facing the biggest decision of his life, as his contract expires at the end of this season. While he is technically the third starter for the Phillies, behind Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, there is no doubt that Cole is one of the best aces in the league. He finished fifth in Cy Young voting for 2011 after going 14-9 with a 2.79 ERA. And yet, the Phillies don’t seem to worried about resigning or extending their longest tenured pitcher. After all, they do have both Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, and considering his prowess, Hamels will likely fetch a gargantuan contract. On the other hand, the Phillies pitching is the only thing keeping them above water right now. So, should the club make a bigger push to resign the ace, or should they look to trade him during the season?

It’s hard to envision the Phillies winning their sixth straight NL East title without amazing pitching. At a game below the .500 mark (18-19), Phillie sits in the basement of the NL East, the lone team without a winning record. Their hitting has been steadily heating up after a terrible start, now around average in most categories. On the surface, a .259 team batting average (fifth best in the NL) and 137 RBIs (eighth best) are decent, middle of the road stats. Looking deeper, though, is a bit concerning: the Phillies draw the second least amount of walks in the NL, and have some of the worst plate discipline in the league. Their catcher, fan favorite Carlos Ruiz, is leading the team in batting average (.337) and is the only everyday player hitting over .300. Juan Pierre is hitting .330, but there have been too many times this season he has been benched in favor of John Mayberry Jr. or Laynce Nix

Their starting pitching holds the second best ERA in the NL, behind the Nationals, but the bullpen has a league worst 5.19 ERA. Despite the best efforts of their starters, Hamels and Joe Blanton both have ERAs under three while winless Cliff Lee has just a 1.95 ERA, and the struggling bullpen now built mainly from minor league scraps due to injury has provided no support.

So can the Phillies be playoff worthy without Cole Hamels? Probably not. He leads the team in ERA (2.28) and wins (5-1 record), and without him the Phillies wouldn’t have many options for another starter. The bigger question, though, is if the Phillies can make the postseason with Cole. While they are missing two vital offensive cogs, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, their play just hasn’t been good enough to edge out the Nationals or the Braves. Cliff Lee, who is winless in five starts, is a perfect example of how poor play can ruin a great outing by a starter.

The feeling right now is that Philadelphia will most likely try to trade Hamels at the deadline. Their farm system, hit hard by the shopaholic ways of GM Ruben Amaro, is nearly barren of young hitters, and a top left-hander like Cole could fetch a large haul in a trade. When C.C. Sabathia was traded to Milwaukee in 2008, the Cleveland Indians netted one of the league’s top prospects in Matt LaPorta, plus two mid level prospects and a fourth named later. Although he’s been with the organization since he was 18, and he’s been one of the most consistent pitchers in the game, there is a huge sense of under-appreciation towards Cole. Fans prefer Lee or Halladay, and Hamels is scrutinized for every comment or misstep he makes. The Phillies may be willing to part with him, for the right price of course, if it means they can re-sign the more popular Halladay when his contract runs out after 2013. 

A Hamels trade greatly depends on how the Phillies are doing come July. If they’re still dead last in the division, it may be sayonara. This can be especially helped if 25-year-old Tyler Cloyd continues to dominate in Triple-A. Like Vance Worley or 2009 J.A. Happ, Cloyd is an under-the-radar type prospect quietly tearing up the competition in the minors. With Hamels gone it would give Cloyd a chance to come in midseason and face hitters that have never seen his stuff before, giving him a chance to at least have some fluke-wins a la Happ. If the Phillies have made it back to first place, or at least contend for it, by July, Cloyd may have to wait his turn. 

Cole Hamels will not be in a Phillies uniform in 2013. If the Phillies don’t trade him to replenish their farm and give Cloyd a chance, they’ll neglect to re-sign him so that they can get the first-round compensation pick from whoever does sign him (a BIG risk). Then the Phillies rotation in 2013 would consist of Halladay, Lee, Worley, Cloyd and possibly Joe Blanton (who is extremely hot right now). A staff still worthy of high praise, but nowhere near as dominant without Hamels. 

Today’s feature was prepared by  Baseball Writer, Bryan Sheehan.  You can follow Bryan on Twitter (@BaseballHipster), read his interviews with Phillies’ minor league prospects at PhightingOn.com, and catch him writing the occasional article for ThroughTheFenceBaseball.com. Tweet him about this article and give him a follow and he will follow you back!

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Posted on May 16, 2012, in MLB Player Profiles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I find it to be a sad commentary on the underlying incompetence of the Phillies FO to be in such a feeble position with their star pitcher now and in the future. There was no foresight or well thought plan after 2008; they just threw out their $$$ on the immediate present, gambled and lost. It’s not the first time that this has happened in Phillies history; this is an organization that threw away Ferguson Jenkins, Ryne Sanberg, Jorge Bell, Julio Franco, and others that have scarred the organization. Now, Cole is added to that list.

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