We've already covered what the rest of the Phillies' assets are expected to be worth at the trade deadline, so it only makes sense that as the end of July draws close, we discuss the one guy just about every contending team in baseball should be interested in: Cole Hamels.
The market is set pretty high on Hamels, as it should be. When the Los Angeles Dodgers came calling, Philadelphia's opening demands for their staff ace -- and there's no denying now that he's the team's ace, regardless of how good Cliff Lee has been for the Phillies in the past -- were the Dodgers' top three prospects: outfielder Joc Pederson, 22; shortstop Corey Seager, 20; and pitcher Julio Urias, 17. That's the sort of prospect overpayment that sends a team's fans howling about lost future production, but in this case they're not wrong. That is an overpayment, and the Dodgers wanted no part of the proposed deal, though one imagines negotiations remain open and ongoing.
Part of the reason the Dodgers balked at giving up that level of talent is because of the significant financial investment that trading for Cole Hamels represents. Hamels, who has been a solid, durable, very good pitcher the last four-and-a-half seasons (982.1 IP, 3.08 ERA, 127 ERA+, 948 K/246 BB) will be paid at an elite level for the remainder of his contract: $22.5 million a year for each of the next four years, and then a $6 million buyout on a $20 million club option for 2019. That's not a massive overpay for Hamels' demonstrated level of production, but it's not a bargain either. It also covers Hamels' age 31 through 35 seasons, and there's a not-zero chance that one of those seasons will be part of his career decline.
So three prospects in Baseball America's midseason top 20 -- that's for all of Major League Baseball, not just the Dodgers -- along with assuming a $96+ million financial commitment is a substantial overpay for Hamels' services. But why shouldn't the Phillies be asking for that level of a return on him? They're not in any position where they actually need to trade Hamels, especially not to clear up money elsewhere in payroll. Without making any trades whatsoever, the Phillies still stand to clear about $50 million of payroll this offseason, and it's unlikely that any of the departing players -- Jimmy Rollins, Roberto Hernandez, Kyle Kendrick and Mike Adams are the big names here -- are going to be back on big-money deals. Rollins will be 36 years old and seems to mix with Ryne Sandberg and his bench coach Larry Bowa about as well as oil and water. Mike Adams has pitched fewer than 45 innings in the last two years for Philly, and Kyle Kendrick is just not that valuable a pitcher -- though someone, somewhere, will probably give him the Jason Vargas deal and see what happens. And if the Phillies really did need to clear more payroll, dumping AJ Burnett, Marlon Byrd, and/or Cliff Lee for marginal returns in order to move some or all of their contract value is far more appealing than dealing Cole Hamels for anything less than a vast overpayment.
The Phillies, you see, have absolutely no interest in a hard tank like the Chicago Cubs or Houston Astros are doing. They don't even have interest in a milder soft tank like we're seeing in San Diego at the moment. The Phillies fully intend to be contenders next season, and while it's fair to debate how realistic that intention is given their front office's track record thus far, it's extremely hard to misinterpret their public statements on the matter.
Therefore, if they're not going to get a ridiculously favorable return for Hamels -- and their proposed trade with the Dodgers would have given them an MLB-ready outfielder, two additional top prospects and the payroll freedom to throw the money earmarked for Hamels at, say, Jon Lester -- there's no reason to deal Hamels. (That's especially true when you consider that they can hold onto everyone and conceivably go out and get Lester anyway.) Ruben Amaro, Jr., gets kicked around a lot, but he's been pretty good at trading pitching -- if the Phillies do part ways with Cole Hamels at the deadline, expect the return to make them a comprehensively better organization from top to bottom, short term and long term. Because otherwise, there's no point in them making the deal.