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Phillies Rumors: The Cubs want Cole Hamels

Chicago is in the midst of a wild card push and are reportedly eyeing Hamels to strengthen their starting rotation. But what will they give up to get him?

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The suitors for Cole Hamels are few and far between with potentially four clubs considered to be realistic landing spots for the Phils' ace left-hander.

One of those teams is the Chicago Cubs, who feature a lineup of studly young position player prospects and a rotation fronted by Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta. And while Chicago was 51-43 heading into Thursday night, nine games behind the runaway St. Louis Cardinals and 4 1/2 behind the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Central, they were holding onto that second wild card, just a half game ahead of the San Francisco Giants and three up on the New York Mets.

Perhaps general manager Theo Eptsein and manager Joe Maddon didn't expect to contend this year, but they are. And as as result, there is a new report from CSN Chicago's David Kaplan that the Cubs are pursuing Cole Hamels.

MLB sources confirmed to me this afternoon that the Cubs have been in discussions with the Philadelphia Phillies on a deal for Cole Hamels who has three years left on his current contract plus an option year. While he is an expensive piece he fits the needs of the team to upgrade their rotation while adding a player who would be a part of the team beyond the rest of this season. The Cubs will probably add an additional starter for depth perhaps as a rental type but that is not expected to be a significant acquisition.

Kaplan went on to say the Cubs are not as interested in giving up prospects for a rental like Johnny Cueto, and said Chicago was told that David Price was not on the market yet.

Adding Hamels would make sense for the Cubs, who could slot him anywhere from 1-to-3 in their rotation, creating a lefty-righty-lefty match-up with Lester and Arrieta. Add in Jason Hammel in the fourth slot, and you've got the makings of a dominant rotation that can match up with anyone in the National League.

Of course, there is the tricky matter of the return. Earlier this week, ESPN's Jayson Stark said the team was offering either Starlin Castro or Javier Baez as the headliner for a Hamels deal, neither of which enthused the Phillies. Kaplan was on 97.5 The Fanatic Thursday night and offered a little more insight on the Cubs' thinking.

Starlin Castro is just 25 years old and is signed to a pretty reasonable deal that will pay him $39.4 million starting next year through the 2019 season when he will be 29 years old. There is also a team option for $16 million in 2020. And while he is a three-time All Star, he has struggled this year, batting .239/.272/.310 with a 3.9% walk rate, 17.2% strikeout rate, .255 wOBA and wRC+ of 56. He's been worth -0.7 fWAR this year as the team's everyday shortstop. With Addison Russell ready to take over at that position, you can see why the Cubs are anxious to move him.

Javier Baez is a 22-year-old second baseman/shortstop with incredible power for a middle infielder, and once again this year, he is tearing it up in Triple-A, batting .314/.386/.536 with eight home runs, a .405 wOBA and wRC+ of 147 in 158 plate appearances. But in 229 PAs last year with Chicago, Baez struggled mightily to make contact, with a slash line of .169/.227/.324 and a 41.5% K-rate.

On TGP Radio this week (which you can download on iTunes here), I spoke with Matt Winkelman of Phillies Minor Thoughts about the Cubs, who said that while Baez has elite power, you also run the risk of acquiring a Domonic Brown-like disappointment.

So what would the Cubs have to give up in order for a Hamels deal to make sense for the Phillies?

It seems unlikely that catcher Kyle Schwarber would be on the table, given his outrageous potential as a hitter. But in order for the deal to work for the Phils, it seems as though he would have to be involved. Most don't think he's going to be a catcher long-term, but his bat would be a monstrous upgrade in either left field or first base for the Phillies. He would be a true franchise-changing player. Landing him feels like a longshot, however.

But if Schwarber isn't in the deal, and the Phils don't want Castro or Baez as the headliner, than is there a deal to be made? As Winkelman noted in the podcast and again on Twitter, their second-best prospect, shortstop Gleyber Torres, is an 18-year-old playing in Single-A ball.

This is likely the roadblock the Phils are running into with Chicago. Perhaps if enough lottery pieces are thrown together, four or five players, a collection of Single and Double-A players will work. But it's pretty clear the Phillies are wanting at least one piece that is close to Major League ready, and aside from Schwarber or Russell, there doesn't seem to be that type of prospect on the table.

Clearly there is still work to do, as Philadelphia will probably not do a deal with Castro or Baez as the headliners. But there does appear to be some momentum toward something getting done between the Phillies and Cubs on Hamels.