Analysis

Winner or Loser: The Cole Hamels – Texas Rangers Blockbuster



Hamels helped lead the Texas Rangers to an AL West crown following the deal, while the Phillies prospects in return have been a mixed bag. (Arturo Pardavila III/WikiCommons)

Continuing my in-depth look at trades which have shaped the current Phillies roster and farm system, we come to one of the biggest deals in recent years, the 2015 Cole Hamels blockbuster with the Texas Rangers.

It was widely known throughout Major League Baseball that the Phillies would be sellers in 2015. Their biggest trade piece was Cole Hamels, the last remaining ace of what just a few years earlier had been a vaunted “Four Aces” rotation that also included Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt.

Multiple teams were involved in the Hamels sweepstakes: the New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Texas Rangers were the primary suitors. There were many variables involved as well. Hamels had a no-trade clause which could need to waived. The acquiring team needed to be able to take on his contract. The Phillies wanted the best possible deal to help in their rebuilding process.

The 31 year-old Hamels had a ton of value in 2015. He had at least three and a half years of control (four years with his option) and he was also in the midst of a solid season. Over 20 starts with the Phillies, Hamels had allowed just 113 hits over 128.2 innings while striking out 137 opposing batters and walking just 39. He had a 3.64 ERA and 1.181 WHIP as well.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was shopping for the best deal possible. He asked the Dodgers for Corey Seager or Julio Urias: no and no. The Cubs appeared to be front-runners, especially after Hamels no-hit them at Wrigley Field just days before the trade deadline, but nothing materialized. In the end, it came down to the Rangers and the Astros. The choice would be up to Hamels himself.

The Phillies preferred the Astros offer, but Hamels opted for the Rangers. He thought that Texas was in a better position to win and go deep into the playoffs, even though the Rangers had a losing record at the time of the non-waiver trade deadline. Texas had won seven of 10 to move within three games of an AL Wildcard berth, and looked to be heating up.

The offer began to leak on the night of July 30, 2015, and the trade was made official the following morning. The Phillies sent their 2008 NLCS and World Series MVP along with hard-throwing southpaw reliever Jake Diekman to Texas.

In return the Phillies received a huge prospects package: catcher Jorge Alfaro, outfielder Nick Williams, and pitchers Jake Thompson, Jared Eickhoff and Alec Asher. The Phillies also agreed to take on the contract of injured pitcher Matt Harrison.

HOW HAMELS AND TEXAS FARED

Hamels would go 7-1 down the stretch for Texas with a 3.66 ERA. The Rangers as a team went 38-22 following the deal to rally from eight games off the division lead at the time of the trade to capture the AL West crown by two games. Up by a game heading into the regular season finale, it was Hamels who delivered the clincher with a complete game victory over the Los Angeles Angels in front of the Rangers home crowd at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas.

In the playoffs, the Rangers would take the first two games in their best-of-five series at Toronto. But the Blue Jays rallied for a pair of wins in Texas to tie it up, then won the decisive ALDS Game 5 with a 6-3 win over Hamels and the Rangers at Toronto. Hamels surrendered four runs in 13.1 innings of work and suffered one loss in the series.

Hamels was an AL All-star the following season during which he went 15-5 with a 3.32 ERA. The Rangers dominated the AL West by winning 95 games, but were once again knocked out in a 2016 ALDS by Toronto, this time suffering a three-game sweep at the hands of the Blue Jays. Hamels was lit up in his only start of the series, surrendering six earned runs over 3.1 innings in the opener.

Hamels had a rough season in 2017, he only made 24 starts and had his highest ERA since 2009 at the 4.20 mark. He also had the lowest K/9 rate of his career with just 6.4 per every nine innings. The Rangers struggled as a team in 2017 as well, missing the playoffs entirely while their divisional and in-state rivals Houston took home the World Series trophy.

At 34-years of age, Hamels struggled at the start of the 2018 season as well, with a 4.72 ERA over 20 starts for Texas. With the team well below .500, they decided to move on. On July 26, 2018, the Rangers traded Hamels to the Cubs for pitcher Eddie Butler and a minor leaguer. He remains with the Cubs entering the 2019 season.

HOW THE PACKAGE AND THE PHILLIES HAVE FARED

Now, to the Phillies side of the deal. The big names in the deal were Alfaro, Thompson and Williams. Alfaro was injured at the time of the trade but had so much upside that the Phillies wanted him anyway. Thompson was an impressive starter who looked like a future mid-rotation piece. Williams was a “toolsy” outfielder with lots of upside as well. They all instantly became top five prospects for the organization.

However, it was one of the unheralded pieces in the deal who would make the quickest impact. Less than a month after the trade, Eickhoff would surprisingly make his major league debut and would toss six scoreless innings against the Miami Marlins.

Eickhoff made eight starts in 2015, posting a 2.65 ERA. He was arguably the Phillies best pitcher in the following season of 2016. He made 33 starts, posting a 3.65 ERA and ate up 197.1 innings. Eickhoff struggled in 2017, posting a 4.71 ERA over 24 starts. His 2018 season was a lost cause. An off-season injury kept him out until September, when he made three relief appearances. He is currently battling carpal tunnel syndrome, and hopes to compete for a spot at the back of the Phillies rotation once he can fully recover.

Asher also made an impact in that 2015 season immediately following the trade, but not a good one. Over seven starts he went 0-6 with a 9.31 ERA. He was suspended for 80 games in 2016 due to PEDs before eventually making five solid starts.  He was traded to Baltimore prior to the 2017 season in a roster-crunch deal and is now at 2019 spring training with the Colorado Rockies.

Now to the supposed “Big 3” who came over in the deal.

Thompson cruised through Double-A in 2015. In seven starts he posted a 1.80 ERA and helped lead Reading to the Eastern League playoffs. At age 22, Thompson flew through Triple-A in 2016. He made his pro debut on August 6 and struggled in that outing, giving up six runs in 4.1 innings. In 10 total starts, he posted a 5.70 ERA. Thompson performed better in 2017. In 11 outings he tossed 46.1 innings over eight starts and had a 3.88 ERA. He shuttled back and forth between the Majors and Triple-A multiple times that year.

In 2018, Thompson struggled in Triple-A and was roughed up in three bullpen outings for the Phillies. The club finally designated him for assignment in August and he was eventually traded to Milwaukee. Thompson has signed with the Lotte Giants in Korea for the 2019 season.

Williams also played well when he got to Reading in 2015. Over 22 games he hit .320 with four home runs. Williams played in 125 games for Lehigh Valley in 2016, hitting .258 with 13 home runs, 64 RBI and 33 doubles. Williams spent the first 78 games of 2017 back at Triple-A where he hit .280 with 15 home runs. Williams joined the Phillies on June 30, 2017 and made an instant impact on a struggling lineup. In only 83 games, the 23-year-old hit .288 with a dozen homers and 55 RBI.

The future definitely looked bright for him at that point, but 2018 would prove frustrating at times. He was competing for playing time in right field with Aaron Altherr and early on Altherr looked better. But Williams pushed on and made the most of his opportunities, especially as a pinch-hitter, where his lefty power bat was very valuable. He finished 2018 slashing .256/.324/.425 with 17 home runs and 50 RBI. His future with the Phillies is now muddled with the Bryce Harper signing, and he could become valuable trade bait.

Alfaro saw action in six big-league games in 2016. He then saw time in another 29 games in 2017.  The Phillies felt like they saw enough of Alfaro to trade their former starting catcher, Cameron Rupp, prior to last season. In 108 games during the 2018 season, Alfaro hit .262 with 10 home runs and 37 RBI.

His arm behind the plate became his best weapon as he threw out 26% of base stealers. Alfaro did struggle defensively though with a .989 fielding percentage. The Phillies, surprisingly in contention last summer, tried to upgrade the catching position with a deal for a veteran at the trade deadline when they acquired Wilson Ramos, who would become the primary catcher in August and September.

Alfaro looked like he would be the starting catcher entering this 2019 season. However, on February 7 he was packaged with top prospect Sixto Sanchez to the Miami Marlins in exchange for J.T. Realmuto, who was widely regarded as the top all-around catcher in the game.

SO, WHO WON THE TRADE?

Decision time. The Phillies were looking for the best package possible for Hamels. In their own eyes, they didn’t get it. The team reportedly preferred the Astros offer. Although we don’t know exactly what Houston had offered, it could’ve ended up being better. We’ll probably never know.

Just two of the five original prospects received by the Phillies remain with the organization, Williams and Eickhoff. But the club did land Realmuto for Alfaro, and that has to now be taken into consideration.

Hamels played well for the most part in Texas, but the Rangers never won a playoff series with him. They ultimately had to trade him away to the Cubs for practically nothing in comparison to what he cost them.

For awhile it seemed as if the Phillies were going to get a bunch of big-league contributors out of this deal. Now it’s really about what the pieces obtained for Hamels can get in their own trades. Though he also cost Sanchez, Realmuto is a big piece. Williams could end up landing another needed piece.

Since the trade, Cole Hamels has gone 42-24 over his ages 31-34 years, allowing 563 hits over 623 innings across 100 starts. He struck out 571 opposing batters and walked just 218 in that time. Texas got a 2015 American League West Division crown out of him. He pitched well for the Cubs after the trade last year, but they were eliminated in the NL Wildcard Game.

There is no way to call this deal a winner for the Phillies. It would be difficult to call it a real winner for the Rangers either. This deal looks very much like a push at this point. It would be really nice to see what the Phillies rotation would look like if they could have paired Hamels with Aaron Nola. But would they have been able to land Realmuto without Alfaro?

 

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