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Assessing Cole Hamels' Trade Value Post-Scherzer

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After signing Max Scherzer, the Nationals are rumored to be open to trading Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, or Doug Fister. How might this affect the Phillies ability to get a strong return for Cole Hamels?

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On Monday, the Washington Nationals signed Max Scherzer, a move that improves an already stacked team and has fans and analysts alike dreaming of a 2011 Phillies-esque super rotation. But not so fast! Popular opinion is that the Nationals are now looking to trade one of their other pitchers--Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, or Doug Fister--to either stock up on prospects or balance out the roster a bit.

You might be thinking, "That's all well and good for the Nationals, but this is a Phillies blog. What on earth does this have to do with the Phillies?" It just so happens that the Phillies are trying to trade an elite pitcher of their own. For the last few weeks, most thought that, once Scherzer signed, the market for Cole Hamels would become clearer and more desperate. Now that the Nationals have offered one of their better pitchers for sale, that clarity has not emerged. In fact, yesterday, Buster Olney went so far as to declare the Phillies the losers of the Scherzer signing noting that teams interested in Hamels might now turn to the Nationals for another option.

But how much does the availability of these pitchers actually figure to affect the Phillies' leverage in trading Hamels? Back in December, I tried to figure out where Cole might rank among current pitchers in terms of performance. One takeaway from that exercise was that Zimmerman and Strasburg, performance-wise, have been similar pitchers to Hamels over the past 3 seasons. Fister did not appear on these lists, suggesting that he's not on the same tier as those three. Let's conduct an abbreviated version of that inquiry into how Hamels compares to his peers, but this time include him Fister in the following two tables.

2014 Stats


IP

ERA

FIP

rWAR

Cole Hamels

204.2

2.46

3.07

6.6

Stephen Strasburg

215.0

3.14

2.94

3.5

Jordan Zimmermann

199.2

2.66

2.68

4.9

Doug Fister

164.0

2.41

3.93

4.5

2012-2014 Stats


IP

ERA

FIP

rWAR

Cole Hamels

640.0

3.05

3.21

15.8

Stephen Strasburg

557.1

3.10

3.00

9.6

Jordan Zimmermann

608.2

2.96

3.18

13.3

Doug Fister

534.1

3.22

3.51

11.9

The simple conclusion is that all four are good pitchers who would improve any rotation in baseball. Fister has a slightly higher ERA and FIP than the other three. Hamels has produced more WINZ, primarily on account of throwing more innings. Especially between Hamels, Strasburg and Zimmermann, though, it's hard to strongly prefer one over the other based on performance alone. For our examination, then, of whether their ingress to the trade market negatively affects the Phillies' ability to maximize their return for Cole Hamels, we'd have to conclude that, based on their performance, this would indeed harm Hamels' value.

However, as Hamels detractors so frequently note, performance is not the only factor in determining the value a player provides; age and contract must also be taken into account.

Player

Age

Contract

Cole Hamels

31

5/$100M or 5/$114, depending on 2019 team option

Stephen Strasburg

26

$7.5M in 2015, arbitration in 2016, FA in 2017

Jordan Zimmermann

28

1/$16.5M, FA after season

Doug Fister

30

1/$11.4M, FA after season

Obviously Hamels is a little older than the others, which means, simply, that if we were to put odds on which of these four would still be pitching at a high level in 5 or 6 years, Hamels would definitely have worse odds than Strasburg and Zimmermann.

But, that isn't exactly the question teams looking to trade for an elite pitcher are asking. Instead, they'll want to know how long that pitcher will perform at an elite level for their team in particular. For this question, it's important that the Padres and Red Sox are the two rumored front-runners for pitchers of this ilk. Both teams are relatively young, or at least have enough young contributors to envision a long window of contention. Neither is desperate to put a contender on the field next season before the shutting of a proverbial window.

It is with regards to this concern that Hamels still appears to be the best option on the market. Zimmermann's relative youth means nothing if he's not on your team in a year. Once again, Fister looks like the inferior option: not only is he not as good as the others, but he may also bolt after one season. Strasburg guarantees the acquiring team two season of control. However, in the 2017 offseason, as a 28 year old, he'll be quite expensive to retain. Max Scherzer just got $210 million at age 30. Strasburg figures to be just as valuable in two years.

All this brings us to the value of Hamels. A team trading for him can have him for at least the next 4 seasons at a fixed cost. Seemingly every offseason, the going rate for wins in free agency exceeds the consensus expectations. Hamels, in light of this offseason, is paid at a decidedly below-market rate. Surplus WAR, y'all! Hamels is getting more surplus-y each offseason. Trading for Hamels is like buying a home in the 90s--you can reasonably figure on its value increasing while you own it.

If a team is looking to set themselves up for the next 3 to 5 seasons, Hamels is the clearly preferable pitcher. Does the emergence of new pitchers of comparable ability on the market dampen his value? Sure. But now that Scherzer has signed, Hamels has become the best long-term pitching option available to teams that fancy themselves as contenders over the next 3 to 5 season.

So, rest easy. Hamels' value took a bit of a hit, but Strasburg and Zimmermann are far from perfect substitutes for Hamels, especially to the teams that figure to be most interested in his services. Ruben Amaro (now flexible!) should still be able to demand and eventually find an enticing prospect package in return for Hamels.