The Philadelphia Phillies are apparently changing their stance in Hamels negotiations. Per Rob Bradford, they're now willing to not only send away their ace lefty, but also to pay for the privilege, eating a portion of the $90 million (or $110 million if Hamels forces his new team to pick up his club option) left on his contract.
It's pretty clear what's happened here. The Phillies came out with exorbitant demands for Hamels over the offseason--if perhaps not quite as exorbitant as they were made out to be--and have met with no takers. Their season has gone south, as expected, and at the moment the ace is basically doing nothing more than burning a hole in Ruben Amaro Jr.'s pocket.
This, then, is their compromise. They know they still need this trade to be the big one. The one that bails out a below-average farm system and gives them some hope for the years after their worst financial missteps have come off the books. That means they can't back down on their demands, they can only hope to sweeten the pot.
But if you think the Phillies wavering will get the Red Sox in on Hamels, you might want to think again. In fact, if anything, this probably makes a Red Sox trade for Hamels less likely than it was before. Not because the Red Sox wouldn't be happy to have him, especially at a reduced cost, but because it opens the competition to more teams, and makes him the perfect get for a specific type of team.
First, for the Red Sox, Hamels' ability to contribute in 2015 is fast losing importance. Whether you think this is a dead season walking or simply one on life support, there's no doubt that the front office has to put less priority on what Hamels can do for them now than they would have back in February. It would take a month as good as May was bad to change that. In fact, the only way that it's possible to suggest Hamels is more valuable to a 22-27 Red Sox team than a 0-0 one is if Ben Cherington feels under pressure, and makes a desperation move. But if Henry and co. are considering a change (and so far there's no indication of that), it's hard to imagine they'd let anything that smelled of desperation get past them.
For other teams, though, 2015 is a very real consideration. Look at the Twins and Astros and Mets, all three enjoying surprisingly successful seasons. The Royals are still good, too, and of course there's the more traditional contenders like the Dodgers and Cardinals.
It's the small-market bunch that are really important for the Hamels market, though. Because they have added incentive to jump on this deal. This is a rare occasion where a team is openly willing to facilitate the presence of a high-priced superstar on a small-market roster. For those small-market teams who find themselves with an open window right now, that gives them a chance to go over-the-top not just in 2015, but in the next two or three years before the young core that is presumably powering their playoff push start leaving in free agency.
The tradeoff, obviously, is the future for those teams. They likely will have to accept a period of rebuilding either in the last couple years of Hamels' contract or, ideally, in the years after it ends. But that's really not such a big deal for these small market teams. Rebuilding periods are a part of doing business for them.
What's more, for most of these small market teams that are currently contending, this sort of early-season push is basically the best-case scenario. There's never going to be a better time for them to make a move like this. If the would-be Hamels trade chips pay off and contribute, they're probably just replacing the players departing in free agency who made this run possible. If they don't, then the team has missed the window entirely and were one Cole Hamels less likely to have made anything of their run.
Even if the Red Sox were 29-22 instead of 22-29, the Phillies' flexibility here would be bad news for them. As far below .500 as they are, and as bad as they look, Philadelphia effectively opening the market to so many more teams might even take the Red Sox out of their position as assumed favorites for Hamels for the first time. It's hard to imagine, with so many surprise contenders in 2015, that the lefty ace makes it past July 31st. And if it comes down to a small market team with big aspirations for this year and a Red Sox team that ends up out of it by July, it's hard to imagine the Sox will be the top bidders.