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July 30, 2015

Transaction Analysis

Rangers Go HAMels

by Matthew Trueblood, Jeff Moore, Kate Morrison, Colin Young and Mike Gianella

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired LHP Cole Hamels, LHP Jake Diekman, and cash considerations from the Phillies in exchange for OF-L Nick Williams, C-R Jorge Alfaro, RHP Jake Thompson, RHP Jerad Eickhoff, RHP Alec Asher, and LHP Matt Harrison.

The Rangers have been a quietly fascinating enigma ever since the end of the 2013 season. Briefly a powerhouse whose decline we could imagine, but hardly predict, the 2010-12 reign of dominance ended sourly, and for the last two years, the team has seemed star-crossed. Injuries derailed their perfectly reasonable hopes of competing for a playoff spot last season, and this year, despite a strong stretch in May and early June that gave them at least a glimpse of their stolen glory, they're headed for another sub-.500 finish.

With this trade, Jon Daniels is sending as clear a message as he could possibly send: The Rangers have no plans to allow this to happen again in 2016. Jorge Alfaro, Jake Thompson, and Nick Williams were the team's third, fifth, and seventh prospects on our preseason top-10 list, respectively, and they'd all be higher now. Daniels is cashing them in, along with two mid-level, nearing-the-majors arms, in order to pair Cole Hamels with Yu Darvish at the front of the Texas rotation next spring.

Assuming next year's playoff hopes will ride partially on the young arms of Chi Chi Gonzalez and Martin Perez, the Rangers badly needed a pitcher with a significant track record of both dominance and durability, a stabilizer who could allow them to plan out their roster a bit more than they've been able to recently. In Hamels, the Rangers' staff gets a co-ace as durable as Darvish has been fragile; indeed, he's one of the least injury-tarnished top-of-the-rotation guys in baseball.

Hamels has a 51 percent groundball rate this season, the highest since a 2011 blip and second-highest of his career, so he's clearly ready for the challenge of keeping the ball in the park in Arlington (which has been less of a challenge than usual this season, anyway). In fact, widening the lens, he's been terrific overall despite the perception that he was struggling in the starts leading up to his last, best one as a Phillie.

Is there another level to which Hamels can climb? Maybe so. It's certainly hard to rule that out, given his domination of the Cubs on Saturday. On the other hand, his odometer is pretty high already, and he's entering that part of the ace-hurler career at which the truly great manage just to hold their level of performance, while the mere mortals begin to fade. The Rangers are betting Hamels will keep going, as evidenced by their willingness to pay so much in talent for him.

Hamels' contract, by the way, didn't turn out to damage his trade value. That's as it should be. Too much had recently been made of what Hamels was owed, instead of what he is on the field: a game-changing starter whose equal might cost only slightly more in annual salary on the free market, but who would do so for more than twice the remaining term of his deal. Daniels ponied up for a horse.

Of course, the Rangers do get considerable relief from that salary obligation, too. Hamels is owed $81 million, guaranteed, but Matt Harrison will take the $32 million-plus still owed to him to Philadelphia in this deal, and $9.5 million in cold cash is coming to Texas, probably pinned to Hamels' shirt. Assign Hamels a $40 million price tag for the next three-plus years, and it becomes really easy to see how he could command so much talent.

And that's the story here. Daniels is taking on Hamels, but not the huge, potentially onerous commitment to him that the Phillies made. In so doing, he's keeping his options open. He'll go into the coming winter with money to spend, be it on another starter or on a needed positional upgrade (catcher seems like the big one). He also gets Jake Diekman, who seems to lack command but whose slider is among the toughest with which to make contact in all of baseball. The Rangers' bullpen is 24th in DRA this season, so an upgraded relief corps was going to be part of any move toward contending next year. Diekman is a good start.

This move is about trading the distant future for the near future, and the Rangers could hardly have done that better. This was an A.J. Preller move, only with finesse. –Matthew Trueblood

Fantasy Impact
Cole Hamels
The park factor and league-switch ding Hamels somewhat, but overall not much is going to change in fantasy for an ace or near-ace who seldom misses playing time and puts up the same general numbers from season to season. The slight rise in ERA should be offset by a bump in wins as Hamels moves from a terrible team to an average one. An additional bump comes from a slightly better defense for Texas. The arrow rating on Hamels is just a slight push downward, and is relative to his own value prior to the trade; he is still a must-start in every format. –Mike Gianella

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired OF-L Nick Williams, C-R Jorge Alfaro, RHP Jake Thompson, RHP Jerad Eickhoff, RHP Alec Asher, and LHP Matt Harrison from the Rangers in exchange for LHP Cole Hamels, LHP Jake Diekman, and cash considerations.

The Phillies did wonderfully here. Quantity can't always beat quality, but if forced to choose between the two, sellers usually do well to take the former. Nor are Williams, Alfaro, and Thompson the type of haul one usually envisions when "quantity over quality" is invoked.

For so long, Phillies fans, and the team itself, had to hear about the insanity of holding onto Hamels, instead of merely taking the best of whatever offers came along. Maybe those complainants were right; we'll never know. Given the outcome, though, Ruben Amaro Jr. comes in for some real praise here. He deftly used one resource of which the Phillies are in no danger of running out (money) to maximize the sheer talent he could get back for his wasted ace. Between sending cash and taking back Harrison, who's up to nine starts in the last three seasons now, Amaro knocked Hamels' price tag down by half. The prospect price tag rose accordingly, and that's how we landed on the passel of players the Phillies received.

Although the growing perception was that the Phillies were somehow refusing to rebuild, the fact is that they're three full years into the project now. Amaro didn't get much, in hindsight, for Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino, but he appears (based on early returns) to have done better at selling off Marlon Byrd and Jimmy Rollins. Maikel Franco and Aaron Nola are in the majors, helping win games, and more help appears to be on the way. This season is certainly rock-bottom for Philadelphia, but unlike the Cubs (61 wins in 2012, 66 in 2013, 73 in 2014) or Astros (three straight years of win totals in the 50s, then 70 last year), the team could be genuinely competitive fairly soon.

Holding onto Hamels helped in that regard. Some might prefer the 100-loss, push-for-the-top-pick rebuild, but the Phillies went a different way, and Hamels kept them respectable (stop laughing; they were) in the years since 2011. Once he could no longer do so, with the clock ticking toward a free-agent market this winter that might have rendered him untradeable, it was time for Amaro to pull the trigger, and he did so. There have been a great many things about Amaro over which Phillies fans can fairly gripe, but this trade won't be one of them. Even if the outcome is ultimately uninspiring, the process was sound. –Matthew Trueblood

***

No one has ever questioned Williams' ability to hit. His hands are among the quickest you'll find in the minors, and his combination of bat speed, strength, and explosiveness give his hit tool as high a ceiling as any young hitter in the game. What is in question is his approach. Before this season, he could be counted among the most aggressive hitters in the minors, with a career walk rate under 5 percent. He's still not Rickey Henderson, but he's bumped it up to 7.7 percent this year while drastically cutting his strikeout rate, giving him just enough control of the strike zone to put his raw ability to use. He's more than just a pure hitter, with underrated raw power that flashes plus in batting practice and has been presenting itself more frequently in games.

Williams is also a plus athlete, but, as at the plate, those tools don't always translate to strong defensive work. A plus straight-line runner, Williams has the raw talent to handle center field, but his route-running and tracking skills leave something to be desired. The Rangers had him splitting time between center and left field, and the Phillies should probably do the same, but his ultimate destination will likely be in the corner with the ability to handle center field in a pinch if needed.

Players with plus hit tools and plus raw power aren't easy to acquire, and Williams immediately becomes the most talented pure hitter in the Phillies system (yes, ahead of J.P. Crawford). Despite his steps forward this season, there is still risk surrounding Williams' development as a hitter, but his improvements have made him a much safer bet to reach his ceiling than he was at this time last year. –Jeff Moore

***

At 6-foot-2 and 225 lbs, with an athletic, strong build and an arm from the heavens, Alfaro looks the part of a big-league catcher at 22. Considered one of the Rangers' best prospects headed into this season, Alfaro was poised to knock on the door of the big-league club by September. Unfortunately, he suffered a left ankle injury and hasn't played in a game for Double-A Frisco since June 10th.

All that potential remains, though. Alfaro's arm is one of the best in baseball right now, and he knows it. He begs runners to test him and seems to thrive on them being on base; you can almost see him gear up to show off the arm by angling his body with runners on. However, he still has quite a distance to go to become a complete catcher. His setup can get sloppy, with a lot of movement and back-and-forth sway. His framing and receiving are still works in progress; his glove sometimes takes pitches out of the zone. Further, his game-calling, pitch selection, and handling of his staff can be erratic, though these are the attributes most likely to grow simply through experience and maturity.

Alfaro has the ability to be an All-Star catcher, but does he have the motivation to focus on being a complete catcher? One scout mentioned that "he's the type of catcher that goes 0-4 and runs to the batting cages rather than working on his defense and the pitching staff."

Offensively, Alfaro has an average bat but plus-plus power. He is still something of a guess hitter and a free swinger, but he could still upgrade his hit tool. The show he puts on in batting practice is impressive, almost in competition with Joey Gallo. When I've watched him in game action, however, he seemed to lose focus when down in the count and swing defensively; he also showed a propensity to chase breaking pitches.

With some refinement defensively, a commitment to working with a pitching staff, and a smoothed approach at the plate, Alfaro could be an integral part of the trade that rebuilt the Phillies. –Colin Young

***

Thompson possesses great physicality and an innings-eating build along with smooth, compact, repeatable mechanics that allow him to get to a consistent arm slot (high three-quarters) to create great downward plane on his pitches. His sinker has a boring effect that seems to get up on hitters quickly. Typically, his fastball sits 89-93 mph, with the ability to pop 95 when needed while maintaining good command. If Thompson is off or high in the zone, it's because he's not finishing the pitch or getting over his front side. He'll sometimes finish tall, which leads to his stuff flattening out. His breaking pitch is a slider that he relies on for strikeouts; it has great depth and bite at the end. His changeup is a work in progress, which you've heard before.

Thompson looks quite comfortable on the mound and competes well. He doesn't get rattled easily. His last three starts have been rough (15 earned runs in just 13 2/3 innings) and his overall walk totals are high (30 in 87 2/3 IP), but Thompson is more than capable of making the necessary adjustments to finish strong this season. –Colin Young

***

Eickhoff has a four-pitch mix, but could shelve two secondaries if he ends up in the bullpen, as some have projected. His solid fastball sits 92-95 mph with life as a starter, and he's run it up to 97 in later innings, when he makes it to later innings. His curveball is the best secondary, a 12-6 breaker that flashes plus at times. His changeup and slider have shown improvement over the last two seasons, but are still average pitches at best. Despite above-average strikeout rates at many of his minor-league stops, Eickhoff's command will come and go, as he's taken a no-hitter 8 2/3 innings in Triple-A, yet other times fails to get out of the fifth. –Kate Morrison

***

Asher's best comp is probably Colby Lewis; they're both big, strong, bottom-of-the-rotation starters with the potential to eat innings. Asher, as you'd expect from that comp, has the standard starter's four-pitch mix: fastball in the 92-94 range, occasionally touching 95; a good slider that can catch hitters off-guard; a steady changeup; and an improving curveball that can bleed into the slider range and come off slurvy. The right-hander has struggled some in his time in Triple-A, allowing more home runs already this year than in any previous season. It's all yawn-worthy, and nobody will blame you for failing to get jazzed over Asher's low ceiling, but an essentially surefire major leaguer as the fifth piece in a trade isn't such a bad thing. –Kate Morrison

Fantasy Impact
Matt Harrison
Harrison isn't anything more than an NL-only play, but the move into the NL—and particularly the weak NL East—gives him a slight uptick in short-term value for 2015. He isn't a good source for wins, but Harrison plays in mono formats and can be streamed in deeper mixed leagues in weaker matchups if needed. –Mike Gianella


Matthew Trueblood is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matthew's other articles. You can contact Matthew by clicking here
Kate Morrison is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kate's other articles. You can contact Kate by clicking here
Colin Young is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Colin's other articles. You can contact Colin by clicking here
Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here

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