The Red Sox don't need an ace, but it sure would be lovely if they had one atop their rotation in 2015 and beyond if possible. The extra security an ace provides in terms of both innings and production is welcome to any rotation, but especially one with some of the question marks Boston's has. That's why, even though trade discussions for Cole Hamels haven't necessarily gone their way, they haven't been ended entirely: the price could always drop to a point where it would make sense for the Sox and their needs. You can read that as, "the price could always drop to a point where the Sox could get Cole Hamels without giving up Mookie Betts or Blake Swihart."
That is likely what the Red Sox were hoping for, but it's probably an impossibility for them now. That's because the Padres have entered the Cole Hamels' bidding, and unlike the Cubs, unlike the Dodgers, and unlike anyone else who has asked about Hamels in the last few months, the Padres need him. Not only that, they have the pieces to bring him to San Diego, and they aren't even on Hamels' no-trade list. This complicates things for the Red Sox, whose best chance at Hamels on their terms has always been about their being the only legitimate trade partner.
This isn't just being said because the Padres made trades for Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton, and Derek Norris work. They managed to acquire all of those players without giving up any of their three best prospects in Austin Hedges, Matt Wisler, and Hunter Renfroe. They still have Rymer Liriano, who could probably be a starting outfielder (or at least given the chance to be) for quite a few teams right now, but is behind five or six players in San Diego at the moment. They still have depth besides that in their system even after those trades: it's not as much as they had before them, of course, but the major-league team looks considerably better both now and in the future, and that's what matters. The Padres now look like they are an ace away from being legitimate threats to everyone in the National League, instead of just a potential wild card contender if some things go their way.
Not trading Hedges means he's still available to be moved. Red Sox fans know from Boston's own negotiations with the Phillies that they are looking for a young catcher, thanks to the names of Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez coming up repeatedly. While the Sox would like to keep one (or both) going forward, the Padres don't need Hedges at all. They have Norris on the team now, and he's signed through 2018: he's not the best catcher around, but he's productive enough to justify shipping Hedges' east as a major piece for Hamels. The Phillies lack quality outfielders, whether they are veterans or youth, and the Padres have Liriano in addition to guys who need a second chance like Cameron Maybin. As a rebuilding club, the Phillies are in a position to take on someone like Maybin, or Carlos Quentin, or Seth Smith, or even first baseman Yonder Alonso if they think they can wring something out of them or flip them for more help down the line. None of those players would be the centerpiece of the deal, but they don't have to be if the Padres are willing to include guys like Hedges and Liriano.
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The other key thing to remember is that the Padres are more likely to deal their prospects than the Red Sox, if only for reasons of familiarity. A.J. Preller is the brand new general manager of the Padres, who inherited a farm system left by former GMs Jed Hoyer and Josh Byrnes. Preller was hired because of his work in player development and international scouting: he has his own opinions of prospects, and his own ability to secure new ones. In addition to Preller, the Padres also added longtime Dodgers' player development guru Logan White to the front office: they're serious about reevaluating and rebuilding the system the way they want it, with the players they want in it.
The Padres aren't going to just give prospects away under Preller, but it's easy to believe he doesn't have the same ties to the prospects in his care that Cherington and Co. do in Boston, with the players they drafted, signed, and developed themselves over the past few years. This might not sound like it matters, but think of how many new general managers go out and pick up reclamation projects they have ties to from a previous gig. A player being one of your guys matters, and it's the kind of little thing that could give the Padres an edge for Hamels: none of their prospects are Preller guys. Hamels would be a Preller guy if the Padres traded for him, as well as the most significant get of his young career.
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Hamels would also make the Padres legitimate contenders, and they haven't been that coming into a season since Kevin Towers was in charge. In the late-90s. The post-Kevin Brown world has not been kind to them, okay? Padres fans were about as downtrodden as could be coming into this winter, after dealing with rights negotiations that kept their team off their televisions, multiple changes in ownership and financial capabilities that at one point made a payroll in the $50 million range sound like progress, a dream GM choosing to work with the Cubs, his replacement not getting the big-league team anywhere, disappointing seasons during all but one year of the current decade, and more and more injuries to players both young and old. Adding Kemp, Myers, Norris, and even Will Middlebrooks has gotten the attention of the city, and adding Hamels now will help justify all these moves in even the most hardened of prospect-loving minds. It's not something Red Sox fans are used to given the constant adulation -- or, at least, attention -- paid their team, but the Sox haven't been through a stretch like the Padres have been living in for quite some time, either. Even if they like to pretend things are that bad sometimes.
The Padres have plenty of on-the-field reasons to trade for Hamels. They have off-the-field ones as well, both in the front office and for the sake of a fanbase they need to recapture. The Red Sox are not nearly as desperate, even if they could use Hamels. That's fine for them -- they shouldn't overpay for him or panic just because someone else might land an ace they could have. It is something to remember, though, the next time you believe that if the Sox just wait a little longer, the Hamels' deal they want will come to them. It might not be there anymore, not with the Padres around. It's a weird sentence to read, sure, but that's how things work now.