Cole Hamels was taken in the middle of the Moneyball draft of 2002, and he was better than almost everyone taken above or below him. He rose quickly and was a part of five division titles, two pennants and a championship. According to WAR, he's the fourth-most valuable pitcher in the 133-year history of the Phillies, behind three Hall of Famers. The kind of individual and team success that followed him through Philadelphia is why people care about prospects in the first place. Everyone is desperate for the next Cole Hamels.
Now it's the Phillies' turn to wait for the next Cole Hamels. He probably isn't coming with this trade or the next one, because they rarely do, but the prospects coming in should provide hope. That's what prospects always do, so enjoy the glow for now. This is the part where it's obligatory to note that most prospects will make you sad, too, but the real spoiler is that every baseball player will eventually make you sad. Every pitcher you've ever watched will crumble into dust and blow away, making room for the next wave of pitchers who will crumble into dust and blow away. Every prospect, every player, every pet you'll ever own will one day ...
Sorry. The deadline gets to me.
Hamels wasn't going to pitch forever, and he probably wasn't going to last until the Phillies had their next good team -- though that's debatable. He had to be traded, and he had to be traded before the end of the season to make sure he didn't get his 10-and-5 no-trade rights. He had to be traded in a saturated market with two other No. 1 starters. Considering everything working against the Phillies, they got an excellent return from the Rangers. They didn't get their blue-chip insta-star, but they got plenty of quantity.
Preseason Baseball America rankings: RHP Jake Thompson No. 2 #Rangers prospect, C Jorge Alfaro No. 3, OF Nick Williams No. 5. All to PHI.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 30, 2015
Continuing: Asher No. 13 #Rangers prospect. That’s four of top 13 for #Phillies. They included cash to get what they wanted most: Talent.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 30, 2015
The cash they included was $9.5 million and agreeing to take Matt Harrison's contract on, which is much more interesting than the standard suitcase of cash going the other way. Harrison might not ever pitch well again, but we know that suitcases filled with cash can't pitch at all, so, heck, why not? The focus is the prospects, though. So many prospects. And it's the kind of the prospects that makes me love this deal for the Phillies even more.
They got raw prospects. Players who need molding and shaping before they reach the majors and thrive. There's a very specific reason why this is exciting as a return for Hamels, and we'll figure out why after a roll call of the young players the Phillies acquired.
Jorge Alfaro is the prize, the prospect with so much raw power that some of the scouts were eaten by his raw power and now they live deep inside him where they work to provide fuel for more raw power. This hasn't shown up consistently in games just yet, and while his arm is a marvel, there's no guarantee he's going to stay a catcher. That's okay. He has the raw power.
Nick Williams can hit for power and average, and while he's a little green in center, he has a little speed. He also struck out 117 times last year with just 19 walks in 408 plate appearances in Class-A last year. He's made positive moves in both directions this year, but he's raw. So very raw.
Jake Thompson is a hard-throwing, prototypical right-hander. He has a glorious slider, but he took a little step back with his command in his return to Double-A. He isn't exactly going to step into a rotation for the Phillies soon. Because he's, you know, raw.
Jerad Eickhoff is another righty, and I'll stop belaboring the point; he's raw. Alec Asher is the closest of the bunch, but still needs a little coaching and experience. He'll need a team that knows what they're doing.
There's the pile of prospects, the return for one of the greatest pitchers in franchise history. There isn't someone who's going to join the team tomorrow, and there might not be someone who makes a difference next year. Raw.
And that's what I love about it. Because if the Phillies can't make anything from this bunch, if they can't turn one or two or four of these players into solid contributors, they probably don't have the organizational sculptors in place to build a contending team, anyway. If they can't realize value from this quantity-quality hybrid, they probably weren't going to realize value from enough of their existing prospects to build a contender around Hamels. If they can't handle a pile of well-regarded raw prospects, they were probably going to screw this all up for the next five years anyway.
This is the Phillies giving themselves a vote of confidence. They probably had offers with safer, closer-to-the-majors talent -- just guessing -- but this was probably the one they felt had the most upside. Raw? Whatever, let's get dirty and figure this out.
Have they earned that vote of confidence? Oh, man, I don't know. My phasers have been set to giggle with the Phillies for years, and it's hard to change that knob on the run. J.P. Crawford is one of the game's best prospects, a gem in the middle of the first round, and the Phillies have done alright with him so far. Aaron Nola had the polish you might expect from a high-profile, top-10 college pick, but the Phillies haven't done anything weird with him. Maikel Franco was dripping with raw potential, getting it all over the damned place, and he's kind of awesome.
Maybe we'll look back with the benefit with hindsight and point to different organizations that the Phillies should have raided. For now, though, we can tell that they weren't scared away from the raw. They were willing to eat money and absorb a rough contract to get more raw. And if the Phillies can't turn the raw into something productive, well, they were cooked anyway.
The Phillies won't turn what they got into the next Cole Hamels because the real one is so rare, another team was willing to trade a pile of prospects for him. They don't need the next Hamels, though. They just need enough solid-to-excellent players to build a contending team, and if they can't do it with this bunch, they probably weren't going to do it anyway.
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