We live in a new era of Major League Baseball. Where once it would have been unthinkable, teams with wildly bloated payrolls had no choice but to wait out those contracts, now they can find trading partners willing to bail them out. The Dodgers did so for the Red Sox. The Blue Jays did so for the Marlins. Those trades worked out well for both sides, so might another similar deal be on the horizon?
One half of the equation seems pretty clear: the Philadelphia Phillies. If ever there was a team saddled with too many big contracts and too little talent, it is the Phillies. They are doling out a ton of money this year and are getting almost nothing to show for it. This is why GM Ruben Amaro Jr. was so roundly criticized for failing to unload any of his undesirable assets at the recently passed deadline. The problem there though was that Amaro was looking to dump them individually. The path to his salvation might be a deal in the mold of the package deal that the Red Sox made with the Dodgers two years ago around this time.
That deal was largely centered around Adrian Gonzalez. He had a big contract, but he was also still quite productive. The Dodgers were so eager to get their hands on him that they took on the massive contract of the semi-useful Carl Crawford and the expensive remnants of Josh Beckett as well. The Red Sox didn’t get a whole lot of prospects back, but they did get the gift of payroll flexibility, something that hasn’t been seen in Philadelphia in eons.
That’s a package that Amaro could easily replicate. Cole Hamels has over $100 million still owed to him, but he is still pitching like a a guy that deserves that kind of coin. He could be a real difference maker for a contender come the post-season. But there will be a price to acquire Hamels outside of his own contract. That would be Ryan Howard.
Speculation is that the Phillies are just going to cut Howard in the off-season, so Amaro would be remiss if he didn’t try to package Howard with Hamels to escape some, if not all, of the $55 million Howard is owed after this season. Howard will be a hard sell since he looks to be washed up, but for the chance to get a hold of Hamels, surely some GM can talk himself into using Howard as a platoon DH.
If Amaro wanted to get really greedy, he could also try and foist Jonathan Papelbon or Marlon Byrd into a potential deal. Both are having excellent years but both carry salaries after 2014 that the Phillies probably aren’t too anxious to pay ($13 million for Papelbon, $8 million and a scary vesting option for Byrd). But the right team might be willing to overlook those costs for the short-term talent boost.
Who is that right team though? There aren’t too many other teams like the Dodgers out there that have a license to print their own money.
The Yankees seem like an obvious option since they are that one other team that has seemingly unlimited budget space. They could certainly use Hamels to reinforce their shaky rotation as they attempt to get back into the Wild Card race. They could certainly find a use for Papelbon in their bullpen, assuming both sides can get over his Red Sox roots. The hang up, as always, might be Howard. The Yankees have never been scared to use a washed up slugger in their lineup, but they have Carlos Beltran cluttering up their DH slot right now and Mark Teixeira firmly entrenched at first. They could always just not play Howard, but that makes him an even more bitter pill to swallow.
Perhaps the Phillies could make a deal with Los Angeles? That other Los Angeles, that is. The “of Anaheim” variety. The Angels have a desperate need for a high-end arm in their rotation with C.J. Wilson going into the tank and Tyler Skaggs on the DL. Their bullpen is plenty crowded with talented arms, which makes adding Papelbon a bit difficult since it would force him into a non-closer role that he isn’t likely to be too happy with. However, the Angels are one of the few teams that might actually be able to make use of Ryan Howard who would be an easy candidate to supplant Efren Navarro as the left-handed half of a DH platoon.
The biggest issue for the Halos is more likely to be that such a deal would send them flying over the luxury tax threshold for the next few years. Owner Arte Moreno has balked at paying the tax before, but has always said he would if it meant a shot at a World Series and adding Hamels might just be that kind of move. Even still, Moreno does not have a bottomless bank account like the Yankees and Dodgers.
Maybe the Phillies might just be better off going back to the well that spawned this idea. The Dodgers triggered the template deal with the Red Sox, but maybe they are willing to go down that road again since it worked out well the first time. The Dodgers have made no secret of their desire to add another high-end starter like Hamels. Their bullpen could certainly use the help of Papelbon. They have no use for Ryan Howard, but they also have no problem burying a beleaguered and disgruntled former All-Star on their bench (hi, Matt Kemp!).
None of these scenarios are particularly likely, granted, but they are at least avenues Ruben Amaro should be willing to explore since he seems so opposed to doing a full tear down and rebuild. This route would free up payroll for the Phillies to redeploy in the off-season for a quickie reload via free agency. Whether Ruben Amaro is really who you want leading such an effort is an entirely different debate.