Imagine all the places Cole Hamels could go. Imagine all the places he could play baseball for the next four years, all the places in baseball where Cole could lace 'em up, head to the hill and do what he does best.
Of all those places, it's hard to imagine a place less appealing for Phillies fans (other than Atlanta, Washington or New York) than St. Louis.
No deal appears close on any front, and it’s possible that the Cardinals will simply decide that the acquisition cost in each case is too high.
A deal to the Cardinals is a real possibility. St. Louis is not listed on Hamels' no-trade clause, meaning the Cards would only be responsible for four years and $90 million of his salary.
And the Cardinals certainly have a need for a quality left-handed starter. Of course, Adam Wainwright is the ace, but the staff after him is a bit lacking. Lance Lynn, John Lackey and Michael Wacha round out the top-four, with Carlos Martinez, Marco Gonzales and Jaime Garcia vying for the #5 spot.
Those top-four are all right-handed. So adding a starter like Hamels makes perfect sense for St. Louis. The only question is, how much would they have to pay?
Undoubtedly, either Martinez or Gonzales would have to be involved in any deal for Hamels. Martinez is 23 years old and has just 117.2 innings and 8 career starts under his belt, posting a 4.28 ERA and a FIP of 3.15 in that small sample size. He came into last season as the 31st best prospect by Baseball America, and in 15 career starts posted a 2.18 ERA for the Cards' Triple-A team. Martinez throws hard, averaging 96.7 miles an hour in 2013 and '14.
Gonzales made five starts for the Cardinals last year and put up a 4.15 ERA with some control problems, walking 5.5 per nine in his 34.2 innings. But last year he made a meteoric rise through the minors, pitching in high-A, then Double-A, then Triple-A, then all the way to the Major League level. In 21 minor league starts he had a 2.41 ERA, struck out 8.6 batters per nine while walking just 2.0 in 122 innings. Frangraphs lists Gonzales as the organization's second-best prospect.
The Phillies would also likely target outfielder Stephen Piscotty, the team's #1 position player prospect. With the addition of Jason Heyward and the continued existence of Matt Holliday, Piscotty seems to be blocked at the moment. In 556 plate appearances last year at Triple-A, the 23-year-old hit .288/.355/.406 with 9 home runs and 32 doubles, with 11 stolen bases. Most believe he'll hit somewhere in the .280-.290 range and hit anywhere from 10-15 home runs as a Major Leaguer.
Randal Grichuk is a 23-year-old outfielder who had a cup of coffee with the Cardinals last year, and in Triple-A hit .259/.311/.493 with 25 homers and 23 doubles last year. He's expected to start the season as St. Louis' fourth or fifth outfielder, and while he's a bit further along than Piscotty, he's not seen to have as high a ceiling.
Center fielder Jon Jay could also be of interest to the Phils, although he will turn 30 this year and probably wouldn't be part of the next great Phillies team. In 468 PAs last year, Jay hit .303/.372/.378 and was hit by a pitch a league-high 20 times. He posted a bWAR of 2.8 for St. Louis.
Rosenthal also mentioned the Phils' long-standing love of center fielder Peter Bourjos, but hopefully his .231/.294/.348 season in 294 PAs for St. Louis this season has talked the Phils off of that ledge.
Certainly the Cardinals could try and sign Max Scherzer or James Shields as a free agent, but that would make their entire rotation right-handed. Of course, if your pitchers are good enough, it usually doesn't matter what hand they throw with.
But if they are looking for a lefty, it comes down to David Price or Hamels. Obviously, Price would cost less in both money and prospects, but they also be without the services of an ace-type pitcher after next season, unless they agreed to a contract extension. Hamels would cost more, but would also give the team a bona fide ace to pair with Wainwright for the next four years.
For the Phillies, they should not do a deal with the Cardinals unless it includes one of either Martinez or Gonzales, Piscotty or Grichuk and one or two other pieces as well. It's hard to see St. Louis matching that price, although it's hard to see any team matching what the Phils are looking for in exchange for Cole.