In theory, the idea of 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels returning to the Phillies in 2018 would be a pretty amazing story. Hamels, who won a World Series MVP in 2008 at the ripe age of 24, is already one of the most popular players in franchise history. If Hamels returned to the Phillies just months before they potentially ended a seven-year playoff drought, it would seemingly be a storybook conclusion, with the Phillies reacquiring him just three years after trading him to the Texas Rangers as they embarked on a long overdue rebuild.
Hamels, 34, has allowed himself to think about a scenario where he is able to don red pinstripes again just in time to be able to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the 2008 World Series title next month.
“I think that’s kind of the pipe dream of it,” Hamels told Scott Lauber of The Philadelphia Inquirer. “That’s the perfect scenario. Everything has to cross.”
When Hamels last pitched for the Phillies, he tossed a no-hitter at Wrigley Field on July 25, outdueling current Phillie Jake Arrieta. Even with a win that day, the Phillies were still 27 games under .500. Hamels was traded days later to the Texas Rangers for a package that netted three players who have played for the Phillies in 2018: Jorge Alfaro, Nick Williams and Jake Thompson. The exact success of the trade from a Phillies perspective is still unclear.
Meanwhile, the Rangers went 28-22 after the start of August 2015. With the addition of Hamels, they were able to sneak into the playoffs, edging out the Houston Astros in the American League West. The Rangers were ultimately eliminated by Jose Bautista and the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALDS that year after blowing a 2-0 series lead. Hamels made his fourth career All-Star team in 2016, but the Rangers were again eliminated by the Blue Jays in the postseason.
Just as those Blue Jays teams look drastically different than the ones that eliminated Hamels and the Rangers, the 2018 Rangers and Phillies are very different teams than they were just a couple of seasons ago. The Phillies, just a year removed from posting the third-worst record in the National League, enter the All-Star Break in sole possession of the National League East lead. The Rangers are 41-56, 22 games out in the ultra-competitive American League West.
That’s caused speculation that the Phillies could reacquire Hamels, giving them a left-handed starter in a rotation that currently lacks one. Jon Morosi of MLB.com reported earlier this season that Hamels can’t block a trade to the Phillies as part of his partial no-trade clause. Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports reported last week that people close to Hamels think he would like to return to the Phillies. For his part, Hamels says he can only control what he can control, but he certainly seems to think highly of the situation in Philadelphia currently.
“If something like that does happen, I think it would be a blessing,” Hamels said to Lauber. “You do look back. And Philly has a great group of guys that they’re bringing up and the future of a world championship team. You just have to give it to them and give them their space. If it happens, it happens. But I can’t wish or long for something like that because I’m still trying to figure out how to pitch well in five days, six days.”
However, for as cool as Hamels returning to the Phillies sounds to some, his fit in Philadelphia isn’t as good as some may think. While the Phillies lack a left-handed starter currently, it’s hard to see what pitchers in the Phillies rotation Hamels would be an upgrade over. Aaron Nola will pitch in the All-Star Game Tuesday, Jake Arrieta is the midst of the first year of a lucrative three-year deal and Zach Eflin had a breakout first-half. Nick Pivetta has a 4.58 ERA, but his 3.75 FIP and 1.7 fWAR suggest he’s been much better. The same goes for Vince Velasquez. Enyel De Los Santos had a disastrous fifth inning yesterday, but prior to that he had allowed just three runs in his first 10.1 innings at the major league level. Cole Irvin has also earned a chance to make his major league debut.
Additionally, Hamels hasn’t had a particularly effective season in 2018. In 19 starts this season, Hamels has a 4.36 ERA. He has a 5.05 FIP, which is the ninth worst mark among qualified starting pitchers. His 1.73 HR/9 is the fourth worst mark in baseball. He’s hit 11 batters this season, which is tied for a career-high. And all of this comes after an injury-plagued 2017 season saw Hamels post a 4.20 ERA and 4.62 FIP.
On top of all of this, if the Phillies acquired Hamels, they likely would be on the hook for his $20 million option for 2019. Could the Phillies afford to pick up that option? Yes. Is paying Cole Hamels $20 million in 2019 – perhaps rather than another player – a good idea? You be the judge. If the Phillies didn’t want to pick up that option, they would be forced to pay Hamels a $6 million buyout.
Hamels aside, it’s fair to wonder if it wouldn’t just make sense for the Phillies to stand pat with the starting pitching they have internally. Manny Machado or otherwise, the Phillies seem likely to add another bat. They’ve been connected to both Zach Britton and Jeurys Familia in recent days, a sign that general manager Matt Klentak plans to make an upgrade in the bullpen as well. You can always upgrade the starting rotation, but it doesn’t seem like that’s the Phillies No. 1 priority right now.
It’s hard to entirely rule out a deal for Hamels because it’s unclear at this juncture what level of compensation the Rangers would want in return. But even without knowing that, the idea of Hamels returning to Philadelphia and making an impact in a pennant race is, as Hamels said, kind of a pipe dream.