The Boston Red Sox are one of the oldest teams in professional sports. When someone states those words, they usually mean the franchise, not their current roster.
Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com reported that Boston is still kicking around as one of a number of teams in the hunt for starting pitcher Cole Hamels, currently held by the Philadelphia Phillies. The possible trade could be currently be with either the Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres, St. Louis Cardinals, and the Red Sox. “Philly is especially interested in adding a young catcher, says Salisbury, who notes that several of the teams most heavily involved on Hamels possess top backstop prospects. The club would likely insist on adding Blake Swihart in a deal with Boston” (Jeff Todd, MLBTradeRumors.com).
If that is the case, and the Red Sox do pull the trigger on that deal, they would be adding yet another veteran starting pitcher to an already aging rotation. Yet, this elder statesman, if you can call a 31-year-old man ‘elderly’, could be the ace general manager Ben Cherington was looking for up his sleeve.
Hamels may have only went 9-9 in his ninth career season, but he did it while posting a 2.46 ERA, the lowest he has ever pitched. He struck out 198 batters to only 59 walks. In over 204 innings, Hamels gave up only 14 home runs, also the lowest he has ever given up in a full season. The lefty’s fastball and cutter ranged between 91 and 88 mph, while his changeup, which he loves to throw a quarter of the time, was clocked at a respectable 82 mph. Considering 46% of all batters Hamels faced ended up hitting an infield grounder, his .231 against opposing lineups holds well to any arguments of being an ace for any rotation.
Nobody would fault Cherington and Red Sox Nation for drooling at the tempting asset that Hamels represents. He is a three-time all-star, coming off of a great individual season, even if his team did not play well enough to help him get more wins. He is a proven champion, winning both the World Series trophy and MVP in 2008, a presence much needed for the aging, yet unproven veteran Red Sox starting rotation.
But is Hamels too costly?
Hamels is signed through 2018, with a $20 million team option, a $24 million vesting option, and a $6 million buyout clause in 2019. The contract would put Boston on the hook, guaranteed, for $94 million. If Swihart was the man on the other end of the deal, the Red Sox would be losing arguably their most valuable top prospect, who is only 22 years old and making much less money off of the Red Sox payroll for a number of years to come.
It is always hard to judge what is a fair trade, especially between a veteran ace starter and the future of a franchise, who is still learning to play the game. Swihart was hitting .300, with a .487 slugging percentage, 12 home runs, and 55 RBIs for Boston’s Double-A affiliate, the Portland Sea Dogs. He showed a similar impact in 18 games for the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox later that same season. The kid could be on the cusp of being a bonafide superstar, but that is if his talent translates to the big leagues. Swihart’s numbers are in the minors, which hardly proves anything, yet. If Christian Vazquez, the Red Sox’ current starting catcher, finds his bat and pans out as the permanent solution at the position, maybe Swihart does become expendable.
If Boston wants to win now, and not worry about the future, then Hamels needs to join the Red Sox, if there is that possibility. If Cherington feels that his pitchers can handle the load, without having a proven ace, then why give up a future star? A hard decision for any team: the lust of a championship or the glory of consistent success in the future?
*** All pitch statistics are from fangraphs.com