Cole Hamels Cubs

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Phillies missed an opportunity with Cole Hamels

Tim Kelly
August 27, 2018 - 8:27 am

In the old takes exposed era, it’s rare to see media personalities or sports observers admit they were wrong on an issue. Of course, it becomes easier to admit you were wrong when just about everyone else was too.

Related: Gabe Kapler: 'We're tough, we're not running away'​

Enter, Cole Hamels.

The Chicago Cubs acquired the 34-year-old left-hander from the Texas Rangers just prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. They acquired him for 27-year-old reliever Eddie Butler, Single-A starter Rollie Lacy and a player to be named later (which turned out to be 17-year-old prospect Alexander Ovalles). Butler—who literally wore the name “Spaghetti” on his back for player’s weekend—has a 5.77 career ERA in parts of five major league seasons. Lacy is a 23-year-old prospect that MLB Pipeline doesn’t rank in the Rangers top 30 prospects.

The point is, Hamels was very attainable. However, he was very attainable for a reason.

After an injury-riddled 2017 season in which he was ineffective, Hamels had a 4.72 ERA and 5.19 FIP in 20 starts for the Rangers in 2018. He also still had a portion of his $22.5 million salary for 2018 remaining along with a $20 million option for 2019, which features a $6 million buyout. It was rather understandable that teams didn’t jump at the opportunity to acquire the four-time All-Star.

There was some reason to think that Hamels could benefit from a change of scenery. While Hamels had a bloated 6.41 ERA in 10 starts at Globe Life Park in 2018, he had a 2.93 ERA in just as many away starts in 2018.

Still, it was fair to wonder if Hamels’ true self in his 13th major league season didn’t lie somewhere in between the two marks. If he had an ERA in the low fours—and you couple the financial commitment that taking him on would require—teams may have viewed him as a back-end-of-the-rotation upgrade at this stage of his career, at best.

Naturally, Hamels has been better in Chicago than even those who supported the Philadelphia Phillies reacquiring Hamels could have imagined. In his first five starts for the team once referred to as the “lovable losers,” Hamels has gone 4-0 with an 0.79 ERA and 2.36 FIP. Hamels has averaged just less than seven innings per start, giving the Cubs a legitimate top-of-the-rotation option as they look to reach their fourth consecutive NLCS and win their second World Series title in four years.

There’s a debate to be had just how much Hamels will regress in the season’s final month, as this level of production seems unlikely to be sustained. But his first five starts for the Cubs have helped the club to keep a cushion between them and the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers.

The Phillies, meanwhile, find themselves three games out of the National League East leading Atlanta Braves and on the outside looking in for the chase for one of the two National League Wild Card spots. It’s fair to say that their offense has been more to blame for a month of August that’s seen the Phillies go 10-13. It’s also fair to note that despite the aforementioned offensive struggles, the Phillies have won every start Aaron Nola has made this month. Nola’s 1.00 ERA in 27.0 innings this month has led the Phillies to four of their 10 wins this month. He’s been good enough to make up for a pedestrian offense, and Hamels has been even better than him in August.

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Again, Hamels is likely to come back to earth in September. It’s not clear what “earth” is for the 2008 World Series MVP anymore. But in August, he unquestionably would have given the Phillies a better chance to win crucial games than four-fifths of their current starting rotation.

This is an overused cliche in sports, but perhaps hindsight is 20/20 in this case. Each of Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta and Zach Eflin has posted an ERA north of 4.00 in August. At the same time, up to the Hamels trade becoming official on July 27, each of those three had performed better than Hamels in 2018.

General manager Matt Klentak has talked about trying to balance talent development with winning—this is the clearest example of that. The average age of the trio that makes up the final three spots of the Phillies rotation is 25, nine years younger than Hamels. Any of the three could turn in a month of September that helps the Phillies to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2011—perhaps the finest season Hamels had in Philadelphia. But they’ll certainly be stronger in the future for getting to grow up in the midst of a pennant race.

But yeah, it certainly does look like trading for Hamels would have given the Phillies a better chance to reach the postseason in 2018. There are a variety of reasons for why Hamels season has turned around since being traded to the Cubs, but perhaps those who were yelling that they would prefer to take their chances with Hamels in the final two months of the season were onto something.