Cole Hamels just pitched a very good game against the New York Yankees last Tuesday night. Several writers are opining that the Yankees may trade for Cole Hamels. There is some merit to the argument, but it does not seem like the smartest move.
Why would they trade for Hamels, the Texas Rangers starting pitcher? Well, the Yankees do have a need for another starting pitcher. Luis Severino is currently the only consistent Yankee starter. Jordan Montgomery has been out since May 2nd with a flexor strain in his pitching elbow and could miss up to two months. His replacements, Luis Cessa and Domingo Germán, have been a mixed bag.
Cessa is out until the beginning of June with an oblique injury and Germán has struggled as a starter since his sizzling six-inning, no-hit debut. Masahiro Tanaka and Sonny Gray have struggled, with Tanaka giving up too may home runs and Gray walking too many batters. CC Sabathia has been a bright spot with a 3.55 ERA, but his 4.53 FIP and struggles his last three starts may signal a regression to the mean is coming.
Still, that’s about as far as the fit goes. Hamels has pitched well this year, sporting a 3.38 ERA, and striking out more than a batter an inning. On the other hand, he has a 4.95 FIP, which has been increasing every year since 2015. His BB/9 has been climbing since being traded to Texas as well, which has led to three of his highest WHIP totals of his career. He also has struggled with the long ball as well, with a rate of 1.7 HR/9. Hamels’ fly ball rate has also been slowly increasing since being traded to the Rangers, while his ground ball rate has decreased in the same period. This is a pitcher out performing his peripherals and who has a profile that is already like two starters in the rotation.
Then there is the contract. Technically, this is Hamels’ last year under contract. He has a $20-million team option in 2019 or a vesting option worth $24 million. The vesting option is contingent on Hamels pitching 400 innings in 2017 and 2018 and not ending the 2018 season on the DL due to shoulder or elbow injuries; he would need to pitch 252 innings this year to reach that 400-inning plateau. This could be a one-and-a-half year rental for the Yankees if they pick up his option, but general manager Brian Cashman has worked hard to get the Yankees under the luxury tax. Acquiring Hamels would be opposite that goal, with a salary greater than $20 million.
The Yankees record (33-16) is right where it should be based on their Pythagorean W-L (31-18), which is to say this team is already pretty good as constructed. Even with Tanaka and Gray underperforming and the revolving door at the fifth starter, the Yankees are one of the best teams in the American League. Cole Hamels could help if he continues to out-perform his peripherals, which may be difficult in Yankee Stadium where his home run problems may be exacerbated.
Hamels might be the least-expensive option on the market, with rumblings that the Detroit Tigers could shop Michael Fulmer and the Tampa Bay Rays possibly dangling Chris Archer. Both would be controllable for multiple years and thus would require hefty packages of prospects to pry away. If the Yankees were to trade for Hamels, it cannot be an overpay situation. Alternatively, the Yankees could just call up one of their pitching prospects to avoid overpaying the Rangers.
What would the Yankees’ internal options be? Right now, there are three: Justus Sheffield, Chance Adams, and Josh Rogers. All are in Scranton Wilkes-Barre, with Sheffield just arriving recently after a stint on the disabled list. Adams is in his second run in Triple-A and it is not going as well as his first. He is continuing to walk close to four batters per nine innings and has developed a home run problem, despite not having one at previous levels.
Sheffield has only pitched 12.1 innings in Triple-A, but they have been great, with a 1.46 ERA and 2.82 FIP. He is continuing to strike batters out but is also walking far too many.
Rogers is somewhat of a dark horse. He is in first stint at Triple-A and pitching very well. He is striking out batters, limiting walks and not giving up home runs. He is not a top-30 prospect in any rankings of the Yankees organization. He has progressed through the system quickly, though, as he was drafted in 2015 and has been promoted once in each of the past three seasons.
The conundrum continues: are two Triple-A pitchers who seem to have the same problems as two current Yankees starters really an upgrade? Is the unheralded Triple-A pitcher with a great stat line worth a shot? They would be over Germán and Cessa for sure. They would allow both to move to the bullpen where they have been more effective. They would also be cheaper than paying for Hamels, who really looks like he could crash at any moment.
They could merely stabilize the rotation until Montgomery returns, and if those prospects perform poorly, they can be sent back down. If they perform well? That is a problem the Yankees would much rather have than what they have currently.
Montgomery has always been a starter and has been effective, so bumping him to an Adam Warren role seems unlikely. If any of Sheffield, Adams or Rogers perform well they could be bumped to the bullpen to limit their innings and keep them fresh. Plus, once the playoffs begin, rotations shorten and there is no need for five starters.
Promoting from within seems like a far cheaper, both in terms of salary and prospect capital, and overall, a better option than trading for a starter who is greatly outperforming his peripherals.
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