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About those Cole Hamels to the Mariners rumors

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forget Scorpion szn it’s RUMOR SZN BABY

MLB: San Diego Padres at Texas Rangers Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

It’s still a month from the trade deadline, but the rumor mill is just getting started. The Rangers, cellar-dwellers in a packed AL West, are already rolling out the sale signs and affixing price stickers to most of their pitching staff (Yohander Méndez’s just says “make an offer”), and the Mariners are rumored to be interested in the centerpiece of the showroom:

It makes so much sense! Look how much sense it makes!

Sometimes, with trade rumors like this, it’s so tempting as an outsider to look at the various moving pieces and solve the trade in your head, like it’s the Jumble or something. The Mariners need pitching*, they have few prospects but plenty of money to spend on Cole Hamels’ redonk $22.5 MM contract, and they’re one of the few teams not on his no-trade list. It makes so much sense!

Except...does it?

Although the Mariners certainly have more cash-money that prospect collateral, it’s important to note that Hamels’ contract, aside from being a healthy chunk of change this year, also has a little poison pill for next year: either it’s subject to a large ($6 mill) buyout, or, if Hamels reaches 400 innings in both 2017 and 2018 without ending the season on the DL for a shoulder or an elbow, the whole 20 mill is guaranteed. He fell short last year, only pitching 150 innings, so the guarantee won’t kick in, but the $6 million buyout is still in play. The good news is Hamels’ high price tag almost ensures the prospect return would be minimal-to-nonexistent, unless Texas eats a large portion of the contract; the bad news is that’s still a giant chunk of change for a 35-year-old pitcher who, so far, hasn’t been that great this year.

To wit, here’s how Cole Hamels would slot in amongst the Mariners’ starters up to this point in the season:

Fangraphs

The number that jumps out, obviously, is the HR/FB rate: one of these pitchers does not pitch in Safeco as his home ballpark. But troublingly, Hamels has earned some of those flyball homers this year, as his hard contact rate is up to a career-high 44%—almost ten points above his previous career high, last year’s 36%. That’s led him to a career-high FIP of over 5, and the blame can be put squarely on Globe Life, where he’s surrendered 14 dingers, vs. 6 in all other parks, leading to some particularly wicked home/road splits: an FIP of about 6.5 at home vs. just under 4 when away from his personal chamber of horrors. 9 of the longballs he’s given up have been to righty batters pulling the ball, which fits with the Habitrail in Arlington, but he’s also given up 7 homers to righties to the center of the field, suggesting righties are seeing the ball off him particularly well. No wonder Cole looks at Safeco Field longingly.

There are some good things hiding beneath those ugly numbers, however. Hamels is still striking out a good number of batters (23%) and although his walk rate is troublingly high (9%!), that might be in response to his dinger problem. (2017 Ariel Miranda says hello.) If his xFIP of just over 4 is more a measure of where Hamels is when not pitching in the Barbie Dreamhouse of ballparks—remember that xFIP uses projected, instead of actual, HRs allowed—that’s still a useful pitcher, and one that’s perhaps constructed with a little less magic pixie dust than Wade LeBlanc. (SIERA likes Hamels even more than xFIP.) However, Hamels is one of the Rangers’ best trade chips, and if the team wants to maximize their return, they’d be smart to package him with another player—maybe a useful reliever like Keone Kela or even Jose LeClerc—and see if they couldn’t get some actual prospects to help rebuild a farm that’s ranked in the bottom third in baseball.

Now back to that asterisk. The Mariners need pitching*, but they aren’t desperate for it, which is quite a sentence to type. Hamels would offer the rotation some flexibility and depth, and perhaps even the ability to go to a six-man rotation, which is some straight-up luxury talk. Acquiring a durable innings-gobbler like Hamels would defend against a member of the starting rotation going down with injury and provide some extra insurance in case there’s an embargo on Wade’s fairy dust, but the thing is the Mariners already have a durable innings-gobbler, and his name is Mike Leake. They say the best time to look for a job is when you already have one, and maybe that advice applies to shopping for pitching, as well.

Important caveat:

As transparent as this front office is, they are notoriously tight-lipped about possible transactions. The Hanigura trade, the Dee Gordon trade, the Spanomé trade...none of these were reported or even foreshadowed until they happened. Meanwhile, names that have been connected to Seattle in the Dipoto era—Lucas Duda, Jay Bruce, Jon Jay, Matt Harvey, Sonny Gray, Carlos Santana, among others—haven’t panned out. Remember for like two hours over the Winter Meetings this past year we thought they were signing Mark Trumbo because someone saw someone talking to his agent or something? MAN those Winter Meetings were boring. As Dipoto told reporters at the Winter Meetings, “we are linked to everything because we are constantly involved in everything.” All Dipoto has said to this matter is: “it’s a good group of five; if we have the chance to go out and augment it, we will”—which is Dipoto-speak for “I’m not doing anything differently than I normally do.” My gut instinct is that the Mariners are doing their due diligence on Hamels, and writers and rumor-mongers are putting the pieces together (because again: it would make so much sense!). To me, it would be surprising to see Dipoto, who has prized bringing in assets who will be long-term pieces of the club rather than splash money on rentals, go this route. If they do, however, there’s certainly no concern about Cole Hamels not fitting in with the Mariners’ “no bad guys” clubhouse; remember when he donated this ten-million dollar house to charity?