Rangers Get a New Ace in Cole Hamels

A lot of pitchers are flashier than Cole Hamels, and every year, a few new guys pop up and post better seasons, only to disappear again into the night not long after. Hamels doesn’t throw 100 and his out-pitch is a change-up instead of a highlight-friendly breaking ball, but with his command of a full repertoire and remarkable consistency, Hamels has established himself as one of the game’s best pitchers.

After a decade in Philadelphia, Hamels now heads to Texas to try and help turn another team into a winner. After a long time on the trade block, Hamels will reportedly be shipped to the Rangers — along with lefty reliever Jake Diekman — for outfielder Nick Williams, catcher Jorge Alfaro, and pitchers Jake Thompson, Jerad Eickhoff, Alec Asher, and Matt Harrison, though the latter is in the deal for contract reasons rather than as a future asset.

The focus will likely be on the the package coming to Philadelphia, given all the words that have been written estimating what Hamels would command as a trade chip, but while the Phillies didn’t get Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, or Alex Gonzalez, the Rangers depth of prospects means that the Phillies still got real talent back even without demanding a team’s best young players. The three primary prospects in the deal were all ranked in the team’s top 10 by Kiley McDaniel this spring, with Alfaro and Thompson both grading out as 55 FV guys, and Williams at 50. Kiley has provided a thorough examination of the players going to Philadelphia. The bottom line, though: these are good prospects that the Rangers surrendered.

And when you’re giving up that much talent, you want to get back a premier pitcher. Hamels is that. Since 2006, among starters with at least 1,000 innings pitched, Hamels ranks 10th in ERA-, 12th in FIP-, and 7th in xFIP-. Over the last few years, some ridiculous young pitchers have made their debuts and might have even passed him by, but even in that shorter time frame, he still looks like a top-ten guy.

Longevity is also part of his attraction. Nothing predicts future injury like past injury, and Hamels has been healthy. Pitchers with good walk and zone rates — proxies for command and sound mechanics — have the best health outcomes. Heavy changeup pitchers have better outcomes than pitchers who depend on other pitches. Hamels is in the right place to be healthy for the next three-plus years left on his contract.

And longevity is important for the Rangers, as this trade is more about 2016 and 2017 than this year. The Rangers only have a 3% likelihood of making the playoffs this year, but next year they get back Yu Darvish and retain most of what has been a top-ten offense this year. They held on to Chi-Chi Gonzalez, Joey Gallo, Rougned Odor, and Jurickson Profar, all young players that could get better quickly.

Adding Hamels at the top makes this team better next year. Not only does the 31-year-old lefty own the changeup that gets the most raw whiffs in baseball, not only has he been adding velocity recently, but he has also firmed up his curve ball this year. That gives him three non-fastballs to turn to as he ages, in differing amounts. He’s also pitched in a park that closely resembles the park he’s going to in terms of power factors, so it’s not likely he was a creation of a good home situation.

And by getting the Phillies to take Matt Harrison in the deal, Hamels’ already reasonable contract becomes a downright bargain. While we don’t know the exact terms of the financial arrangements, the reports suggest that the Phillies are sending cash along with Hamels and Diekman, and taking on Harrison’s deal; if they weren’t covering all of Harrison’s remaining contract, the cash would be going the other direction, so it’s probably safe to say that the Phillies are off-setting something like $30 million of the remaining $67.5 million Hamels is due over the next three years. That makes the marginal cost increase only in the range of $43.5 million if they buy-out his 2019 option for $6 million: Hamels at three years and $43.5 million is an absurd value for the type of pitcher the Rangers should expect.

And that’s why the Rangers were willing to pay the price in prospects to get Hamels. With the Phillies paying down the financial cost and the Rangers able to keep their elite prospects and young major leaguers, getting a pitcher of this quality was simply too good a deal to pass up, even if they aren’t a traditional 2015 buyer. The ability to stay out of this winter’s free-agent market will let the team focus on their other issues, and if they can get some of their young talent to step up and fill some holes, Hamels may be back pitching in the postseason again in the not too distant future.





With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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FangraphsMcTeamquality
8 years ago

Mind answering a question? As a life-long student of the game and a massive Rangers fan, Why would a below .500 team buy a pitcher worth about ~3-5 wins. At best with Darvish coming back strong from TJ, this will get them to about 84-78.

Richiemember
8 years ago
Reply to  Eno Sarris

But you just wrote that now the Rangers can “stay out of this winter’s free agent market”, Eno.

Richiemember
8 years ago
Reply to  Eno Sarris

In other words, I agree with Kevin. Even if most everything goes right, premium Hamels still does no more than merely get them in the wild card mix.

Rangers should’ve kept stockpiling. If next season does find them pulling an Astros, there’ll always be someone available at that trade deadline.

Matthew
8 years ago
Reply to  Eno Sarris

And it isn’t about 2015, but 2016 and 2017.
They’ve got mammoth contracts on the books with Fielder,Choo, and Andrus. Even Hamilton is owed some money. Beltre could be leaving soon. Same with Darvish.

They decided to try to contend from 2015-2017 and attempt to restock the farm in the meantime instead of develop prospects and have them blocked by contracts.

Matthew
8 years ago
Reply to  Matthew

It is also worth mentions…worst comes to worst and the Rangers deal him for a decent package.

You can land a couple top prospects or MLB players for a half year rental.

tz
8 years ago
Reply to  Matthew

This.

fjtorres
8 years ago
Reply to  Matthew

If Darvish comes back to what he was pre-injury, Hamels could even be the ranger’s number 3 if their young pitching (Martinez, Gonzales, etc) develops. They also have Gallo, Profar if he ever gets healthy, and Odor.
They moved a lot of talent but they still have talent to work with. Not sure they top out at a wild card only for ’16-17 but the AL west is looking pretty competitive for the next few years.
Some fun dogfights coming out way.