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“Let's trade Cole Hamels.”

As Buster Olney reported on Monday, that just might be a decision the Phillies’ front office makes this winter. He'll be a free agent following the 2012 season, and executives throughout baseball are skeptical about Philadelphia’s ability to keep the ace lefty. Let's be clear about this: Hamels is most definitely an ace, he's coming off of his best season statistically, and is in his prime. The Phillies should keep him; despite what it might seem like considering their rotation, aces don't exactly grow on trees. They're also expensive, and if the Phillies decide to trade him prior to the 2012 season, they'll certainly find their phones burning up with prospective suitors.

Should the Phillies look to trade Hamels, here's what they should be looking for:

1. A replacement in the rotation. Trading Hamels right now is not the best timing. Roy Oswalt is leaving via free agency, which gives the Phillies two aces in Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, and then some mortality in Vance Worley and Joe Blanton, with Kyle Kendrick the most likely candidate from within. Ignore Kendrick's 2011 ERA; pitchers who don't miss bats cannot sustain these kinds of numbers, and while teams are highly reticent to trade pitching prospects, they are less so when a pitcher like Cole Hamels is on the table.

2. Bullpen help. Jonathan Papelbon is simply a Ryan Madson replacement/upgrade, Jose Contreras is old as Methusala, and most inside the game expect regression from Antonio Bastardo. Relievers are the most unpredictable commodity in the game, and depth there is always a good thing.

3. Middle-infield insurance. Jimmy Rollins is a free agent, and Chase Utley is coming off his two worst seasons since his 2004 rookie campaign. He has missed a combined 106 games during that time. Enough said.

4. Athletes with upside. Because when it comes to players, that's what the Phillies always look for. That's their draft mantra, and likely will be in trades as well.

So while advising against the idea of it, let's play along and trade Cole Hamels to some likely interested parties, with the help of a big-league executive who quipped, “Hey, I love trading other people's players.”

New York Yankees: Manny Banuelos, LHP; Hector Noesi, RHP; Austin Romine, C; Mason Williams, OF
Banuelos is one of the best left-handed prospects in the game, and like Hamels, his best pitch is a changeup, but he has plenty of other offerings. He should be ready at some point in 2012, while Noesi can start or relieve right now. Williams is exactly the kind of young, athletic outfielder the Yankees cover, and Romine could develop into a replacement for Carlos Ruiz. “The Phillies need a long-term catcher, and their top catching prospect, Sebastian Valle, is not a sure thing,” said the executive.

Boston Red Sox: Will Middlebrooks, 3B; Jed Lowrie, INF; Brandon Jacobs, OF; Felix Doubront, LHP
While Placido Polanco was a Gold Glove winner and somehow an All-Star, he's still well below average offensively for the position. Middlebrooks would be a perfect fit as a hot-corner player with above-average offensive and defensive potential, and he should be ready by 2013 at the latest. Lowrie is a perfect fit for infield depth, while Jacobs is toolsy and coming off a big year in Low-A. The biggest problem for Boston is that they just don't have the arms to compete with other teams. “Doubront is out of options, and the Phillies need left-handed depth,” said the exec.

Chicago Cubs: Brett Jackson, OF; Andrew Cashner, RHP; Junior Lake, INF
“People forget that Victorino is a free agent after next year, so a young center fielder could make a lot of sense here,” said the executive. Jackson's strikeout issues will keep him from hitting for a high average, but his power and patience will more than make up for it. Cashner is healthy and throwing bullets, and he could give the Phillies a dominating late-inning combination when paired with Papelbon. Lake has tools and size, and some chance at becoming the answer at third base in a couple of years.

Texas Rangers: Martin Perez, LHP; Mike Olt, 3B; Jorge Alfaro, C; Roman Mendez, RHP
Perez has started to stagnate a bit in the Rangers system due to issues with inconsistency, but he remains a left-handed starting prospect with upside who could pitch in the big leagues this year. Olt is a perfect trade chip as a plus defender at third base who put on a show with the bat in the Arizona Fall League, but is interminably blocked in Texas by Adrian Beltre. Alfaro and Mendez are the upside plays, with Alfaro most noted for his power and arm, while Mendez brings upper-90s heat.

Detroit Tigers: Jacob Turner, RHP; Casey Crosby; LHP; Danry Vasquez, OF; Gustavo Nunez, SS
While Hamels to Detroit makes sense, it's a difficult deal to make due to an extremely shallow Tigers system. “They just can't get the deal done without including Turner,” said the executive, referring to the team's top prospect by a wide margin, who is also close to being ready for a major-league rotation. Crosby has a terrifying injury history, but still has two well above-average pitches in his fastball and curveball, and could be a weapon out of the bullpen. Vasquez was a big-budget signing out of Venezuela in 2010 who offers plenty to dream on, while Nunez is an extra infielder.

Colorado Rockies: Drew Pomeranz, LHP; Chad Bettis, RHP; Charlie Blackmon, OF
Pomeranz was the big prize from Cleveland in the Ubaldo Jimenez deal, and while he's an excellent prospect, Colorado should be happy to flip him in a deal for Hamels. Bettis, a second-round pick in 2010, had a breakout performance in the California League, sitting at 92-96 mph and leading the league in strikeouts. “This is another chance for them to pick up a center fielder, but it's too bad that Colorado is in love with [Dexter] Fowler again,” added the executive. That leaves Blackmon, who is solid across the board, but lacks star potential.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Dee Gordon, SS; Allen Webster, RHP; James Baldwin, OF
There are plenty of whispers that the Dodgers could be players this offseason, with a focus on increasing team value now that the McCourt nightmare is in their rearview mirror. But they just don't have the prospects to play ball with the big boys. “The problem is that their system is all pitching, and there just isn't someone who can headline the deal,” explained the executive. This is why Gordon would be included; he would become an immediate Rollins replacement and provide the Phillies with some financial flexibility. Webster is a mid-rotation prospect with a 2013 timetable, while Baldwin is the perfect Phillie as a 20-year-old with some of the best tools around, but he's still learning how to play baseball.

Washington Nationals: Brad Peacock, RHP; Derek Norris, C; Michael Taylor, OF; Stephen Lombardozzi, INF
“I'm surprised you don't have the Nationals on your list,” said the executive as we ran through scenarios. The team is certainly expected to be busy on the free-agent market, so it makes sense that they'd be interested in Hamels. While Peacock lacks the upside of Hamels, he can walk right into the Philadelphia rotation and produce. Norris is a catcher who has tons of power and draws truckloads of walks, so even when he hits .210, he's actually good. He hit .210/.367/.446 in 2011 at Double-A Harrisburg. Taylor is the youthful, athletic outfielder, and Lombardozzi is the perfect fit as an advanced prospect who can play both up-the-middle positions.  

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

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Which Braves pitcher (if any) would fetch a similar package as Hamels? The red sox deal above would seem like a good fit for Atlanta.
I think the only reasonably closely equivalent Braves pitcher is healthy Tommy Hanson. I wouldn't give a Hamels package for him right now, though - not until he demonstrates health again.

How about Hudson, though? I could maybe see that package. Jurrjens isn't comparable to Hamels. And everybody else isn't established enough.

Caveat: I really don't like that Red Sox package for Hamels.
The Boston package looks awful. How about the Cards: Martinez/Jenkins/Rosenthal,Cox, Cleto, Tavares. Some combo of those should work without having to include Miller. Not saying the Cards could afford to keep Hamels after 2012, so incentive might not be there.
Bluejays - D'Arnaud, Marisnick, Alvarez. Too early for the Bluejays or are these prospects too far away?
Why not Kyle Drabek, D'Arnaud, and Anthony Gose?
Would the Rangers ever consider Profar? They already have Andrus, and Kinsler has 2B locked down, so it's not like there's any room in the middle infield. Sign Rollins to a 4 yr deal to bridge the gap. The Rangers only work in general if the team views Hamels as enough of an upgrade over Wilson to give up top prospects, or they're unable to resign Wilson. Otherwise they'll just keep Wilson for roughly equivalent money.
They have neither Andrus nor Kinsler locked down.

MLB-ready SP: Bauer (can't be traded yet, though), Skaggs, Parker, Corbin.
Young Relief Help: Hernandez, Shaw, Cook, Marshall, Munson.
Infield Depth: Ummm....... Bloomquist? Please, Ruben? Oh, fine. Probably a 3B - Davidson or Wheeler (who really isn't actually a 3B, but let's ignore that). Unless they really like Nick. Or unless they insist upon Owings.
Athletes: Broxton, Linton.

AZ is known to be seeking an upgrade over Saunders, and Hamels would give them a killer 1/2/3 of Kennedy/Hamels/Hudson (whatever order you want to put Hamels/Kennedy in, it doesn't make a ton of difference).
Skaggs and Parker are so close to being ready. I don't see how it makes sense for the D-Backs to trade either for Hamels. Over the life of whatever contract they'd then sign Hamels to, Skaggs and/or Parker could provide nearly the same contribution at a MUCH lower cost.
Me neither. Arizona has a ton of young pitching coming. A guy that would make some sense for them is Aramis Ramirez, if they can get him on a three-year deal or shorter.
The Royals are looking for pitching and have plenty of prospects. What do you think of Hamels for Joakim Soria, Luke Hochevar and a B prospect?
I think that's way less that these deal.
come on KG, thats **IS** way less than those deals!
Would substituting Danny Duffy or Mike Montgomery for Hochevar work? I guess it depends how highly the Phillies would value Soria.
Why would the Phils want Soria after acquiring Papelbon? Too hefty a pricetage for 2 bullpen arms, no matter the contribution.
If the Royals could acquire Hamels without giving up Wil Myers, Ruben Amaro should have his head examined, and the Royals will have scored a major coup. (notwithstanding the fact that he's already done a lot of things that should require such examination already...)
Don't forget about the Reds. Two catcher prospects, two SS prospects, a misplaced bat in Alonso (although the Phillies don't have room at 1B either), need pitching
There's no point in the Reds trading for Hamels unless they can sign him. I'd rather they spend that Lucre on James Shields.
I was going to say the same thing. The Reds have to be looking for a nominal ace, and Hamels/Cueto is a much better 1-2 than Cueto and Arroyo. They have a window to win now. Yasmani Grandal, Brad Boxberger, and Edison Volquez could be included in a deal that helps both teams....
The Phillies aging core may not even be good enough to win the division in 2012, but without a big upgrade somewhere else they would never be able to make up the void a deal of Hamels would create. Let it ride one more year while the window remains opened because it will be shut by 2014 at the latest.
If I'm the Yankees I make the trade proposed for them in this post. I'm not so sure the Phillies would go for it though.

Baneulos may or may not contribute this year, Noesi is OK as a mid-rotation guy or middle-inning reliever, Romine may never hit enough to be a regular (although CB Park can make a hitter out of a lot of guys) and Williams is at least two years away. Also, there's no IF help if Rollins departs and/or Utley's decline continues.

If they want to go all in for 2012 the Phillies probably say no. On the other hand, factoring the loss of Ryan Howard for an extended period this year and the possible loss of Hamels as a FA without draft pick compensation in 2013 might tip the balance the other way.
I wonder how Professor would feel about Texas dealing #TheLegend.
#TheLegend will always be #TheLegend, regardless of the uniform on his legendary back. If the Rangers used #ElOso in a package to acquire Hamels, getting Hamels in the present trumps the dream of getting production from #TheLegend in the future. I'd be all for it.
Since Hamels is a FA after next season, that rules out a few of these teams since they won't be competing in 2012. Other than that, who's package would you choose if you were the Phillies?
Ya I don't see why the Nationals would trade prospects for a 1 year rental. I can see them being interested in Hamels as a FA, and that's what the executive said, but I didn't see why that meant they'd be interested in a rental.

The Cubs are even farther away from contending, no? Everybody else I can sort of see as a contender with squinting.
Kevin, are these prospective deals contingent on the team receiving Hamels being able to negotiate an extension with him? Or are the deals listed worth one year of Hamels?
An interesting exercise in this article, but, as you advise, this has little practical chance of becoming a reality. Now if the Phils are out of it by the trade deadline that's another story entirely. But then of course the price would change at that point, whereas the article judges what the price would be this Winter.
Tigers wouldn't do it... but not for the reason you think. Sure it would wreck what's left of the farm system, but the current group of regulars plus Hamels wouldn't need farm help for awhile. The real problem is the Tigers have all but said they won't add another $20M player and does anyone think Hamels will get less than that when he hits the open market? Can't give up Turner for a one year rental and Philles would want more than Turner and that flotsam and Jetsam.
Agree with juiced. This would be a reasonable discussion approaching the trading deadline if the Phillies are having a down year. The Phillies are not going to deal Hamels before the season.