July 31, 2015: Texas Rangers acquire LHP’s Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman from the Philadelphia Phillies for prospects Nick Williams (OF), Jorge Alfaro (C), Jake Thompson (SP), Jerad Eickhoff (SP), Alec Asher (SP) and LHP Matt Harrison
Sometime before: Hamels blocks potential deal to Houston Astros
August 1, 2016: Rangers acquire C Jonathan Lucroy and RHP Jeremy Jeffress from the Milwaukee Brewers for prospects Lewis Brinson (OF), Luis Ortiz (SP) and a player to be named later (identified on September 5th as OF Ryan Cordell)
The day before: Lucroy vetoes completed deal to Cleveland Indians
No-trade clauses play a bigger role in baseball than any other sport. They are handed out far more often in this sport than others. It’s not close, either, especially with 10-and-5 rights kicking in a full no-trade exemption.
The Texas Rangers have perhaps been more affected by no-trade clauses than any other team in baseball the past two years. You could argue the Nationals getting rejected by Brandon Phillips leading them to sign Daniel Murphy trumps all other scenarios. But it’s happened to the Rangers twice.
And strangest of all, it benefited them both times. Cole Hamels didn’t want to be an Astro long-term. He wanted to be a Ranger.
Jonathan Lucroy didn’t want to compete with Yan Gomes for at-bats in 2017. He wanted to be a Ranger.
Both cases have turned out sour for Texas in the end, especially with Lucroy. The trade is the last thing he has seemingly blocked as his defensive metrics fell apart in Texas and his bat went from all-star caliber to fringe part-timer.
I’ve written about Lucroy ad nauseam so I’ll thus focus more on the Hamels side of things. But as for the catcher, his acceptance of the Cleveland deal would have saved the Rangers nationally acclaimed prospect Lewis Brinson and seen the organization keep their top pitching prospect Luis Ortiz. Ryan Cordell —who now toils in the stacked White Sox system after being dealt at the deadline for Anthony Swarzak— was a popular piece in the system; his staying put would have been another victory.
Hindsight is always 20/20 (always), but the Lucroy deal felt like overpay at the time. The Hamels deal, however, did not.
It was a steep price to pay. Five prospects, with the fourth and fifth likely thrown in so Philly would relieve Jon Daniels’ club of Matt Harrison’s contract (two years and $22 million remained).
After no-hitting the Cubs in his final Phillies start, the all-star left-hander made an immediate impact on the Rangers. Joining Yu Darvish atop a contender’s rotation, it was exactly what both sides wanted.
Hamels went 7-1 post-deadline in 2015 with the only possible negative coming in the form of more than a strikeout lost upon his move to the American League. He also performed very well in the postseason, doing little but watching as Texas folded to the Blue Jays after going up two games to zero...on the road.
2016 marked his fourth All-Star Game berth and he was the true ace for the Rangers. He would go 15-5 in over 200 innings, though he did walk a career-high 3.5 batters per nine innings. In the playoffs, he got shelled by the same Blue Jays club in a three up, three down ALDS sweep.
Hamels has been good for the Rangers. No, he’s been great. Injuries have creeped into the 33-year old veteran’s 2017 campaign, but he still holds a 1.7 WAR to go with a 3.59 ERA and 6-1 record. He’s not the problem. At all. Texas got exactly what they wanted and in the end will have received three and a half productive years from him. Unless he’s traded in his contract year next season. Like Darvish this season.
Unfortunately, the team around him has fallen apart. That lead to the Darvish deal and Hamels may be on the block this off-season along with new 3,000 hit club member Adrian Beltre.
As former Rangers skipper Ron Washington said: “that’s the way baseball go.” The Rangers were among baseball’s elite. Now they’re holding on to mediocrity. It’s not because of Cole Hamels. It’s not even because of Jonathan Lucroy.
But it’s not...not because of Lucroy. That deal has devastated Texas and saw them fully deplete their farm system a year after putting a huge dent in it with the Hamels deal.
On the other end, the wealth of prospects Philadelphia received haven’t delivered yet. Two have stood out above others: Jerad Eickhoff and Nick Williams. Eickhoff wasn’t a heralded piece of the blockbuster but has become a viable rotation member and Williams, called up at the end of June, now has a hold on the everyday job in right field.
Jorge Alfaro and Jake Thompson were arguably the two blue chips of the deal and have stalled at Triple-A. The team cut ties with Alec Asher before the year, sending him to Baltimore and he currently presides at Triple-A Norfolk.
A back injury forced Matt Harrison —an original member of the memorable Mark Teixeira trade— into retirement.
In Milwaukee, Brinson remains a can’t-miss prospect, Ortiz projects in the back of a Major League rotation sometime in 2018 and Cordell is in Chicago with sights on the bigs sooner rather than later.
So let’s play “What If?” (remember when Marvel Comics did these back in the 70’s? I sometimes wish I lived through those days. Computers, though.)
What if Hamels is okay going to Houston? The Astros certainly send a variation of the package designated for Carlos Gomez (OF’s Brett Phillips and Domingo Santana, LHP Josh Hader, RHP Adrian Houser and international bonus money) to Philadelphia instead for Hamels and get the compliment atop their rotation to Dallas Keuchel that has eluded them for years.
They also save themselves from a disastrous year of Gomez, who coincidentally ends up in Texas through free agency on a Minor League contract.
The Rangers perhaps then go get David Price from Detroit, snagging him from Toronto for more than the left-handed trio Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd and Jairo Labourt. They had the ammunition.
But the Rangers have dallied with Price before and his impending free agency may have scared them off. Same with Johnny Cueto. And maybe Mike Leake, too. Money spent on Price or Cueto would have been a safer bet than Shin-Soo Choo. There’s also Scott Kazmir, who the Astros would not have pursued as steadily if they acquired Hamels.
#WhatIf Lucroy accepts his assignment to Cleveland? Believes in himself to play over Yan Gomes in 2016 and his contract year of 2017 and instead of soiling the bed for Texas, does it in Cleveland? In that case he loses the job to Gomes anyway and he’s unhappy anyway and gets shipped off to Colorado for nothing...anyway.
Cleveland surely would have surrendered top catching prospect Francisco Mejia, as reported by Jon Heyman. Along with him, shortstop Yu-Cheng Chang and outfielder Greg Allen as well as pitcher Shawn Armstrong have become hypothetical Brewers. A heavy haul for Cleveland, but Milwaukee came out victors regardless of their temporary misfortune.
Texas did not. If they don’t get Lucroy, maybe they ride it out with Bobby Wilson and give accomplished Triple-A bat Brett Nicholas a shot at splitting duties. Unlikely. The team was all-in as of the Hamels trade (and all-in before that anyway) and had a hole at catcher they intended to fill without Wilson or Bryan Holaday.
Maybe they take a chance on upcoming free agent Wellington Castillo from the Diamondbacks or pluck Kurt Suzuki from the bottom-feeding Minnesota Twins. There weren’t options as sweet as Lucroy, but dealing Brinson was truly a point of no return for Texas.
Not even mentioned yet is Jeremy Jeffress. Closing with the Brewers before being added to the Lucroy deal to Texas, he was satisfactory in a situational role for the Rangers in 2016 before bottoming out this year. A wide-open closer position in Arlington never even considered Jeffress.
The other part of the Hamels acquisition, Jake Diekman, likely would play a role in the revolving door that has become the back end of Jeff Bannister’s bullpen if not for injury. Recovering from ulcerative colitis, he’s been on the verge of a return since early July.
“What If?” is a fun game. It’s easy for me to play and I don’t expect anyone to begrudge me the opportunity. It’s (still...) a free country (...right?) and looking backwards on things is a lot less risky then looking forwards.
The Cole Hamels deal was a big undertaking for the Rangers. It cost them a lot. It was worth it. So was the Jonathan Lucroy deal. It cost them a lot. It was worth it, too. But the price always seemed high. Turns out it was.
All this possible because of the always fascinating no-trade clause.