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It’s no secret the St. Louis Cardinals are in on Jon Lester. The list for Lester appears to be growing, if this is the case the bidding might eclipse over $150 million. There are currently no reports that the Cardinals have made an offer to the 30-year-old veteran southpaw. Yet, the interest in pitching leads for some interesting speculation. It may be safe to assume that the Cardinals would be interested in Max Scherzer, the hometown kid coming off two excellent seasons. Each has their own benefits and downfalls.
A. Lester: Being a lefty gives the Cardinals some match-up options when it comes time for the playoffs. He could make life difficult for opposing left handed hitters. He is coming off the best season of his career and does not cost a draft pick. Lester did have a very rough stint, having an ERA in 2012 close to 5.00 and in 2013 close to 4.00. Over the course of his 9 seasons in the Big Leagues he has close to 1600 innings pitched, though he only has one short trip to the disabled list. Ken Rosenthal has reported that at least six teams are in the mix for Lester. The more teams involved for him the more money it will cost, along with years.
B. Scherzer: He has been in the Majors for 7 seasons and has pitched close to 1240 innings. He is not as old as Lester and it appears to have a couple more prime years in front of him. He is tied to a draft pick and many believe that he will go for a higher rate than Lester. He is coming off two very solid seasons with Detroit and the years preceding he was developing very strong. He has never started less than 30 games since being a full-time starter. He is just as durable as Lester. Scherzer is tied to a draft pick and has already turned down $144 million/6 years. He will be wanting more years and money and someone will give it to him.
So if the Cardinals are truly looking for another ace to pair with Wainwright, where to do they turn if they do not get Lester or Scherzer? One option that could be explored is the Phillies Cole Hamels, option C. Hamels, who turns 31 in December, is owed $22,500,00 through 2018, with a team option and vesting option for 2019 that could be worth $24 million. Hamels isn’t as expensive as Lester and Scherzer will be, but he is still costly. The big difference is that Hamels will only have 5 years on his contract, instead of the 6-8 years Lester or Scherzer will receive. The shorter amount of years could be more appeasing to the Cardinal organization.
Hamels has pitched in 9 seasons with the Phillies. He has logged 1801.1 innings, a career ERA of 3.27, coming off of a 2.46 last season, 108-83 W-L record, 1.142 WHIP, 3.77 SO to BB ratio and averages 8.5 K’s over 9 innings. Hamels has been one of the better, more consistent pitchers since 2006. Yet, he does have a large amount of mileage on his arm. The Phillies also seem like they haven’t come to terms that they are supposed to be sellers, as they should have the past two seasons. Phillies GM, Ruben Amaro Jr. had supposedly placed players on the market last season and did not like the return teams were offering. The Phillies want high returns on their players and since Hamels is an ace they are going to want a high price.
The Phillies also will have one of the largest TV contracts in sports history, inking a 25-year 5 billion dollar deal. That deal will translate to around $100 million for the club annually. Putting that into perspective, the Cardinals current payroll for 2015 will be just north of that in the $105-$115 million range. This type of TV contract can go a couple of ways for teams looking to deal with the Phillies. The good being that the Phillies might be willing to eat portions of large contracts for the right players in a trade. Potentially, the Cardinals could get the Phillies to pay $20-$40 million dollars owed to Hamels. The Tigers agreed to pay $30 million of Prince Fielder’s contract when he was traded to the Rangers for Ian Kinsler just over a year ago. The bad being the Phillies seem to have money just to waste. If the player return isn’t what they are looking for they could just sit on Hamels and continue to pay him his contract regardless if they compete or not because they have the money to do so. Taking off $20 million would almost be taking off a year of the contract. This would give the Cardinals financial flexibility. It also means they would have to part with their better prospects.
Philadelphia wants three premium prospects for a Hamels return. Wacha, Martinez and Gonzalez would qualify and make a trade happen. However, the Cardinals, or any other organization, would turn this down. That sort of compensation would be ludicrous. Just because Philly wants three top players, doesn’t mean they will get them in return. Carlos Martinez would most certainly be the main player involved in any deal. Stephen Piscotty would likely have his name thrown into the mix. Aledmys Diaz could be another option, along with Tim Cooney, Randall Grichuk, Marco Gonzalez and Alex Ramsey. Not all of these players are going to get traded, but they would come up in discussion. The Cardinals would have to find the right combination of 3-5 prospects, one of those including Carlos Martinez, in exchange for Cole Hamels and potentially some other prospects in return.
The Cardinals, if they want an ace, will either have to give up prospects, 20 million dollars + or both. Fans, you cannot have your cake and eat it too. You can go for a guy like Lester or Scherzer, more than likely paying an AAV of $25 million over the next 6 seasons, if not 7 or 8. Or, Cole Hamels, means paying around $22.5 million over the next 5 seasons. The contract is cheaper and shorter than what you will find with Lester and Scherzer. The problem is, giving up more than one prospect (their first round pick if they would sign Scherzer or another player with a qualifying offer) in order to obtain him. But in order to obtain top quality talent you have to give up something in return. Whether this is future potentially good players, tons of cash or both of them. The proven, best players, do not just fall into your organization without giving something in return.
Hamels would provide a dominate left-handed arm in the front of the rotation. His contract would be easier to bare than the additional years that Lester and Scherzer will receive. Not every prospect will pan out, but there isn’t a single GM that wants to trade away, cheaper, solid potential. The trade would give the Cardinals one of the most dominate rotations in all of baseball featuring Adam Wainwright, Cole Hamels, Lance Lynn and Michael Wacha. Yet, the Cardinals need to decide if they want to give Carlos Martinez a shot at the rotation. Scouts and pundits agree that he has front-of-the-rotation potential, but how long can you wait on potential? Lance Lynn could be on his way to becoming a top-pitcher and will want to get paid much more for his services. Last year might have been a career year for Lynn, or it could be the start of Lynn’s rise to being a Cy Young candidate for several years. Many of you are probably thinking the Cardinals have at least seven options for the rotation, so we should focus on extending Lynn and keeping our young potential. Wainwright, Wacha, Lynn, John Lackey, Gonzalez, Martinez and Jaime Garcia are all viable. But, Garcia isn’t dependable. Relying on him would be foolish. Wainwright and Wacha have legitimate concerns about how their arms will hold over the course of the season. The Cards would have to rely heavily on Martinez and Gonzalez, unfinished products, that they might have to rely on in other places as it is. The interest in Lester should be taken seriously. There are other teams involved that the Cardinals don’t need to jump into the conversation, get their fans excited to just blow smoke and ‘raise the price for the Cubs.’ The other teams can raise the price, but if the Cardinals were seriously interested then they would be preparing for life with another ace. Hamels could just take the place of Lester, adding a solid piece to the rotation and not one with question marks.
The Cardinals are praised throughout baseball as having one of the best farm systems, scouting departments and player development in all of baseball. The end of the horizon for Holliday, Wainwright and even Molina is not that far off in the distance. The team needs to decide if Hamels is worth the price the Phillies will be asking, this is even assuming the Phillies would come to a reasonable price. Hamels makes sense as a player in the rotation. He also makes sense for financial reasons. He would already be less of a commitment than other top pitchers by at least one year. Mo can also negotiate the Phillies paying some of the contract, making Hamels the most financially flexible ace on the market if that were to happen. Are the prospects going to be worth Hamels? This trade should be evaluated, reevaluated, discussed time-and-time again, negotiated heavily and all players involved and potentially involved should be scouted thoroughly. If the gate is truly shutting, the Cardinals should consider making this move. If the Cards believe they can win without him, put money in the Lance Lynn and save for the future, go for second tier pitchers. There are no guarantees in baseball. The Cardinals could make the move and it could be a disaster or a success. If the move is made I think it is an instant success and will translate to at least one World Series over the next three seasons.
Plainly put, Hamels makes sense for the right price of prospects and dollars. Don’t expect to get Hamels for lower-level prospects. Don’t expect to get Hamels for an AAV of $15 million. But, if this were to happen, expect the Cardinals to get Hamels for a reduced price and not the three premium prospects the Phillies are looking to gain. Hamels is the best value for an ace. If the Cardinals truly want an ace of elite level, with flexibility, this is him.
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