The Artful Auctioneer – as a Buyer?

Aug 18, 2012; Milwaukee, WI, USA;   Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels (35) pitches against the Milwaukee Brewers in the first inning at Miller Park.  Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Just about a day or so ago, I filled this space with the whys and hows of scrapping a season for youth. My mind hasn’t changed on that; I still think this team, even if able to pull out a division, isn’t built for the grind of October. So when should such a team both a buyer and a seller be? When the possible acquisition is an ace-caliber lefty under control through 2018. So on the heels of all those Gallardo-to-the-Royals and Beltre-to-the-Mets scenarios, let me make a pitch for a pitcher.

Go get Cole Hamels.

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The discussion ends if the names start with Joey Gallo, but beyond that, we can talk. Regardless of his no-hiiter versus Chicago – recall he’d been lit up his previous two starts, and we’re buying for body of work here—Cole Hamels is the most valuable pitcher on the market precisely because of his price. He has an ace-level contract, which lowers his cost in prospects by a bit, and I’ll take a salary hit over prospects any day, because even though his contract is pricey, it’s not an albatross while he produces. He’s shown no signs that is likely to stop between now and the end of 2018, assuming a sturdy shoulder and elbow.

The merits of Cole Hamels are fairly well-known, but let’s recap in short: he has a World Series MVP (2008), is a 3-time All-Star, and has finished in the Top 10 in the NL Cy Young voting four times, including last season. His career strikeout to walk ratio is an impressive 3.74, and he keeps the ball under control even as a fly ball pitcher in a hitter’s park—he has an extra-base hit ratio of 7.8%, and a HR-to-fly ball ratio of only 8.4%. Both of those are around the league average, but with his above-average control and his solid strikeout percentage (8.6 per 9 innings), his home runs tend to do a bit less of their damage in key situations.

Will he cost high-caliber prospects? Yes. The Rangers will have to give up one of their two top bats not named Gallo, meaning Nomar Mazara or Jorge Alfaro will have to linchpin the deal. I’d personally lean towards Alfaro. He’s a high-caliber bat we may well regret giving up in three years, but his power and arm are limited by a less advanced hit tool than Mazara and a glove that may move him out from behind home plate. He’s two years older than Mazara, and his 2015 hasn’t been up to Nomar’s caliber — a .253/.314/.432 slash and only 9 walks and 5 homers against 60 strikeouts in just under 200 at bats. But he’s the type of highly athletic, outstanding tool player (power, arm) that Philadelphia likes to dream on (see Brown, Dominic).

Besides Alfaro, we’d either have to give up one more high-caliber prospect or two solid-potential players. I’d gamble on the latter.

Now, Philadelphia is one of the more traditional teams in baseball, meaning they don’t give the weight to advanced analytics that teams like Oakland, Houston, or Minnesota would. That can play to our advantage, because they can dream on body and against stats. That is, we have to offer a bit more high-risk/high-reward players. One of the first couple names I expect they’ll bring up, outside of the Mazara/Alfaro class, will be Alex Gonzalez or Luis Ortiz. One is a big league arm just getting his footing back (Gonzalez) and the other is 19 with dominant ratios and stuff. If Philadelphia will eat a portion of Hamel’s salary – very possibly a condition of any team’s deal with them – I’d consider adding Gonzalez.

Texas Rangers pitcher Alex Gonzalez pitches in the eighth inning during a Major League Baseball spring training game against the Kansas City Royals at Surprise Stadium in Surprise, Arizona Wednesday March 4, 2015. The Royals beat the Rangers 13-2. (Andy Jacobsohn/The Dallas Morning News) 03102015xSPORTS

See, after watching Gonzalez in his Rangers preview, I’m just not sold on his having major-league caliber stuff. That’s not a product of his getting hit hard late in his audition; as my earlier article on this topic discussed, Gonzalez has had trouble missing bats, and he does not have a good enough strikeout-to-walk ratio to pitch to contact. His might be just the situation where a change of scenery changes his fortunes, but at best he’s a rotation-filler in Texas, and I don’t personally see his ceiling being as high as Ortiz, let alone the likes of Jake Thompson, who started the season neck and neck with him on the Texas prospect radar.

The last name I’d put forth would be Ti’Quan Forbes. He’s a young and highly athletic third baseman, but hasn’t put together numbers yet, and his way to the big leagues is blocked by both Adrian Beltre and then Gallo. Moving him off a corner position, assuming he wouldn’t transition to shortstop (a much harder shift than the alternative SS-to-3B move). Here’s the rundown on Forbes from his 2014 draft profile:

Forbes is a wiry 6’4″, 170 …as he fills out his long frame, a move to third base could be in the cards. He’s silky smooth in his actions in the infield, but can get a little hard-handed and will need some work before he is ready to man an infield spot in the bigs. He does have an excellent throwing release in the field, getting the ball away quickly, cleanly and with zip.

A right handed hitter, Forbes shows promise at the plate as well. He has a loose swing with lightning-quick bat speed, and he does a good job of keeping his hands back and driving the ball. He’s currently a line drive hitter with power to the gaps, but more pop is surely on the way. He takes a big stride into the ball and a lot of his lower body action could be quieted down, as could his lean into the baseball, but his athleticism is on full display in his swing. With some tweaks, he could become a solid hitter for average with above average power.

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He’s been hot lately for Spokane, despite his power not yet blooming, and a 29:10 strikeout-to-walk ratio is not bad for an 18-year-old first-year prospect.

So that’s my prospective deal: Jorge Alfaro, Alex Gonzalez, and Ti’Quan Forbes for Cole Hamels, assuming Philadelphia swallows at least the last seasons’ worth of his remaining contract.

With this approach, the Rangers could still sell the one-year deal of Yovani Gallardo without destroying outside hopes for this season; they’d be stocked for a run through 2018 with an ace-level 1-2 punch; and they’d still have the chips in the farm system to revamp for a deep October push with help from homegrown talent.

Chris Connor
As a lifelong DFW resident, Chris Connor is a diehard Rangers fan, and worships at the altar of Arlington.
He pitched - typically backing up third after doing so - and eventually settled into catching in leagues throughout Richardson and Plano in his youth, graduating from and lettering in baseball at Richardson Berkner High School in 1998. He holds a Bachelors of Science in Management and an MBA, both from UT-Dallas.
As a writer, he acknowledges that he’s never had a brilliance for brevity, but tries to meander to a meaningful point as he channels Faulkner and buys bits by the megabyte. He believes the only things more beautiful than Ted Williams’ swing are Yosemite Valley at sunrise and his wife.
He lives with the latter, along with their beloved dog and quite tolerable cat, in Allen, Texas.

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