The Boston Red Sox come out of the break tied for last in the AL East, 9.5 games back in the division and 8 games out of a playoff spot. That would indicate the team should be selling at the trade deadline, which is quickly approaching at the end of the month. However, with an eye on bouncing back in 2015, Boston could be a buyer if they could acquire an impact player that can help next season. Perhaps a player like Cole Hamels.
It's unclear based on various conflicting rumors how interested the Philadelphia Phillies are in trading their former All-Star pitcher, but they are a declining team loaded with expensive veterans that is desperately in need of a restart. Hamels is their best chance to get a good return in a trade, so if they are serious about reloading with prospects then they have to consider it.
Boston is loaded with talent at the top of their farm system, making them a prime candidate to pull off such a deal. It's probably too late for a starting pitcher to make enough of an impact this late in the season to get Boston back in the race, but a trade for Hamels would be made to improve the team over the next few seasons. It's also a way for the Red Sox to hedge against the potential loss of Jon Lester if he makes it to free agency without an extension.
Would the Red Sox consider a deal for Hamels as a way to replace Lester? If so, it's hard to find a better comparable pitcher. Check out how similar their career numbers are.
Lester: 3.66 ERA, 3.61 FIP, 119 ERA+, 8.2 K/9, 2.61 K/BB, 30.5 WAR
Hamels: 3.35 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 123 ERA+, 8.5 K/9, 3.74 K/BB, 36.4 WAR
Both left-handed starters are 30 years old and are in their 9th season. They are both about equally durable, with each making 30+ starts in each of the past 6 seasons. Based on these numbers, it appears Hamels has been the slightly better pitcher since they entered the league. Granted pitching in the NL is a much different story than competing in the AL East, but stats like ERA+ and WAR account for league and park effects. Lester of course gets a boost from his dominant postseason resume, but Hamels hasn't been too shabby in the playoffs either, with a 7-4 record, 3.09 ERA and a World Series ring.
Contract talks between Lester and the Red Sox have stalled, with Lester seemingly disinterested in negotiating until after the season to avoid distractions. To be clear, this is not a sign that Lester is ready to move on – he still wants to be here in Boston. Had the Red Sox presented him with a more reasonable deal prior to the season – something in the range of 5-years, $100 million – he'd probably already be signed. That price has likely gone up given that Lester is enjoying a career best season. The Red Sox shouldn't have a problem affording more – they have plenty of money to spend. Their concern is more about how many years to invest. Pitchers have a tendency to break down and there is a long history of pitchers falling drastically off a cliff once they approach their mid-30's, as Lester would in his next contract. CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay, Johan Santana, Cliff Lee – all examples of pitchers that were signed to massive contracts, only to see their production fall off due to regression or injuries. The Red Sox are wisely trying to protect themselves from the burden of those types of albatross contracts.
What makes Hamels appealing is that he's already locked up to one of those expensive contracts, but only has 4 years remaining on it. He's owed $22.5 million in each of the next 4 seasons, with a $20 million team option for 2019 (which becomes a vesting option if Hamels meets certain innings requirements). If Boston could lock up Lester to a similar deal then they absolutely should do that, but if he's asking for more than 5 guaranteed years, Hamels becomes the more appealing option.
If the Red Sox did end up making a trade for Hamels, don't assume that it means they won't also re-sign Lester. Pairing the two lefties at the top of their rotation would give the team one of the most dominant duos in the AL. Boston only has about $80 million committed to next year's roster, without factoring in arbitration eligible players and club options. That also assumes John Lackey agrees to pitch for the $500,000 club option his contract demands – the Red Sox may need to offer him a discount extension to talk him out of retirement. Nonetheless, the payroll will be well south of $100 million, which means the Red Sox could afford two $20+ million per year starters at the top of their rotation and still have enough money to splurge on an impact bat and fill other holes on the roster, while staying below the luxury tax line.
If another team is willing to blow Lester away with an outlandish contract, at least the Red Sox would have a contingency plan in place with Hamels if they let him go. As long as the asking price from the Phillies isn't too high, the Red Sox should seriously consider trying to trade for Hamels – regardless of if it's to pair with Lester or to replace him next year.
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