With the Red Sox signing Yoan Moncada to a $31.5 million deal Monday morning, some have speculated that the team might be more willing to part with prospects in a trade for Cole Hamels. Kind of a lot of people, in fact:
Prospects are now more expendable RT @jonjohnsonwip Red Sox signing Moncada is great news for a possible Cole Hamels trade.— Joe Giglio (@JoeGiglioSports) February 23, 2015
May not necessarily be the case, but landing Moncada could make easier for the #RedSox to part with a better prospect to obtain Hamels.— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) February 23, 2015
And they're right, absolutely. A Hamels trade is more likely today than it was yesterday, and it's because the Red Sox have added a top prospect to their system without adding to their payroll, at least not as it counts against the luxury tax threshold.
It's still probably not going to happen.
The problem with a Hamels deal has never been about quantity, but quality. The Sox would likely be glad to give away a significant package of prospects. They'd likely even be glad to headline it with a player like Henry Owens or Eduardo Rodriguez. This is a team with a list of quality prospects as long as any other team in the game, and with enough money that they really don't need a significant volume of players making league minimum on their 25-man roster.
For the Red Sox, the farm system does help keep payroll down and allow them to open their wallets for the biggest free agents. But more and more these days it's about finding the type of player who is difficult to acquire in free agency for anything but the highest price. For the Red Sox, back-end starters and average position players are worth far less in volume than they would be to low-budget teams. They would likely trade away most of their top-20 prospects if it meant holding on to the truly premium guys at the top.
Photo Credit: Kim Klement
Unfortunately, when it comes to a Cole Hamels trade, it's exactly those top talents the Phillies are interested in. They want a Mookie Betts or a Blake Swihart, not a pick-six of players like Garin Cecchini, Matt Barnes, and Brian Johnson.
First off, Mookie Betts should be (and by all reports is) completely off the table. If the Red Sox are trading for Cole Hamels, it's because they have a need for front-line pitching now, in 2015. Hamels would be around for a while past that, granted, but the Red Sox will also have a much better idea of their current crop's talents, as well as another crack at a new free agent market before 2016 rolls around. The big allure of Hamels over those possibilities is that he's as close as they're going to get to a sure-thing ace in 2015.
So if the real point of jumping on a Hamels deal now is to improve the 2015 team...why on Earth would they trade away Mookie Betts, who is expected to be a significant contributor to that same team? Granted, Betts' expected value in 2015 is not as high as Hamels'. Betts could well struggle in his first full season in much the same way Xander Bogaerts did last year, and until he's proven himself over the course of a full season, it's silly to project him to produce at anywhere near Hamels' level.
Still, if the Red Sox are giving away cheap talent for expensive talent, it's because they're putting a focus on winning now. Paying a price in both major league productivity and long-term efficiency splits that focus, diminishing the immediate returns while still making significant future sacrifices. To make a long story short: no half measures.
Alright, so Mookie is out. What about Swihart? Surely with Moncada in the mix the Red Sox are more willing to part with their other top prospect. Sans Swihart, plus Moncada, their system would be every bit as good tomorrow as it was yesterday, and Cole Hamels would be starting on Opening Day.
The arrival of Moncada does make Swihart ever so slightly more expendable, but he doesn't really move the needle a significant amount. If this weren't Blake Swihart, but Tyler Glasnow (ranked one spot above Swihart in Baseball America's top 100), the Red Sox might well pull the trigger. But Swihart is a catcher, and that makes all the difference in the world. It's one of the hardest positions to find talent at, one of the riskiest positions to commit money to in free agency, and to top it off, it's a position the Red Sox have been struggling at since Jason Varitek's decline. Sure, they had Victor Martinez pretending to play the position in his years as Boston's second DH. Ditto Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who nearly threw the 2013 World Series away in one of his worst moments with the team.
But as far as actual catchers are concerned? The type who is as big a contributor behind the plate as at it? They've had nothing like that for about seven years now. Blake Swihart can be that guy--the kind they'll never, ever sign in free agency for fear of a Mauer or a McCann. In fact, if they could, I bet the Red Sox would trade Moncada before they would trade Swihart, even if most evaluators seem to give Moncada the edge in the rankings. He's no sure thing, but what he has the potential to be is nigh irreplaceable.
If Moncada has really changed the story on this trade saga, the Phillies are going to have to come down from their stance of "Betts, Swihart, or bust". The Red Sox likely are more willing now to make that big package deal for Hamels headlined by an Owens or a Rodriguez. They might well be willing to add one more name than they would have before the Moncada signing.
For now, though, that doesn't really matter. It doesn't bridge the gap that's kept the Red Sox and Phillies apart this whole time. The Red Sox aren't likely to budge on Swihart or Betts because of Moncada, and the Phillies have no new reason to budge on their demands before at least July, if even then. Barring a surprise change of heart, this still isn't happening.