By Jack Ryan
The Phillies’ trade of ace lefty Cole Hamels to the Texas Rangers is sending earthquake-like ripples through the baseball establishment, and it will take more than a few days for the seismograph to register a meaningful number.
Any trade for lefty Hamels, the former World Series MVP of the Phillies and the only marketable commodity from baseball’s salad days in that city, had to be about more than this season.
Hamels is owed $23.5 million next year and the next year and the year after that, and so any trade was a long-term commitment. That was apparent in the offseason and opening day and as Friday’s trade deadline approached.
But late Wednesday night, as reports piled on top of each other that Hamels would be dealt to the Rangers – the sub-.500, essentially-out-of-it Rangers – the reality was somewhat unsettling. The most valuable trade chip in this trade season, a figure who could front a playoff-bound rotation and alter a pennant race, would end up on a non-contender.
So Hamels, after all the hair-pulling and hand-wringing, will influence the September races not because of where he went, because of where he didn’t. He’s not in Los Angeles, where the Dodgers still need starting pitching to fill in for the 40 percent of their rotation that’s out for the season. He’s not in New York, where CC Sabathia appears to be begging to be replaced in the rotation, and the Yankees fan base would love for an old-school, we-can-buy-whatever-shiny-object-we see move. He’s not in San Francisco, where the AT&T Park and its far-away fences would welcome a pitcher of his caliber.
He will be in Texas, where the Rangers sit eight games out of the American League West lead. There, the Rangers sit 4-1/2 games out of the second wild-card spot, with five teams between them and the Minnesota Twins.
This is a team for which ace Yu Darvish is out for the season. This is a team for which the future isn’t now – it’s in the future.
Which is not to say this is a bad deal for Texas. The Rangers aren’t that far removed from a stretch of three straight playoff appearances, from two straight AL pennants, won in 2010 and ’11. They have some of the game’s best prospects, power-hitting Joey Gallo (though the strikeouts appear to be a problem) and second baseman Rougned Odor (slugging .466 in the majors this year) among them.
And it’s not unreasonable that general manager John Daniels would make such a deal for the future. Whether this season can be salvaged is somewhere between debatable and doubtful. But the future is meaningful, and the Rangers now have some Hamels from age 32 to 35, fronting a rotation with Darvish, presumably, when he comes back from his injury. The division front-runners, the Astros and Angels, might have better prognostications over the next two months, but neither has that sort of 1-2 hammer in coming years.