The latest buzz out of the winter meetings is that the Phillies and Athletics discussed a trade for Oakland lefty Gio Gonzalez, with Domonic Brown mentioned by Fox's Ken Rosenthal as one of the pieces involved.
1) Why would the Phillies do such a thing?
Pretty simple: Gonzalez, who is two years younger than Hamels, is under club control through the 2015 season. Cole Hamels, on the other hand, can become a free agent after 2012. The Phillies front office wouldn't be doing its job if it did not explore all of its options with regard to the Hamels situation. The lefty wants, and deserves, a contract that pays him among the top pitchers in the game. The Phillies understand how much he brings to their rotation, but they also understand that he is one of the few baragining chips they have when it comes to injecting some new life into an aging roster. In theory, the Phillies could acquire Gonzalez, who has pitched like an ace the past couple of seasons, and then look to move Hamels for some pieces who they feel will be more likely to help them than Brown and whatever other prospects it would take to land Gonzalez.
Hamels is clearly the more talented and more accomplished pitcher, but Gonzalez would still be one of the best, if not the best, No. 3 starter in the game.
Here is how Hamels and Gonzalez stack up over the last two years:
2) How would this help the Phillies?
Theoretically, it would enable them to trade Hamels, which would lower their payroll for at least the next two years and allow them to acquire some significant young pieces.
Shane Victorino can become a free agent after next season. Carlos Ruiz, likewise. Placido Polanco's contract will be up. Chase Utley isn't getting any younger. Jimmy Rollins still isn't signed to a contract.
What if the Phillies were able to use Hamels to acquire the pieces necessary to acquire a player like David Wright? Are the Phillies better off with Wright and Gonzalez or with Hamels and Polanco and whoever might replace him? What if the series of deals also left them with a prospect like Blue Jays catcher Travis D'Arnaud, who has developed into one of the top prospects in the game since the Phillies traded him away for Halladay?
3) What are the chances of such a deal happening?
Remote. I just can't see Oakland and the Phillies matching up on a deal. Keep in mind, the A's would not appear to be under any pressure to move Gonzalez for salary reasons. Any team that wants to pry him away would have to offer a huge package. In other words, Domonic Brown and Vance Worley or Kyle Kendrick probably isn't going to get it done. Because Gonzalez is inexpensive and under club control, teams like the Diamondbacks and the Nationals and the Marlins and other so-called "small-market" teams should have the payroll room to accomodate Gonzalez. Gonzalez would improve these teams more than he would improve the Phillies, which means those teams have more incentive to acquire him, which means those teams are probably in better position to meet Oakland's undoubtedly steep demands.
Meanwhile, from the Phillies point of view, there are probably enough potential drawbacks to temper any offer. Gonzalez has a much higher walk rate than Hamels. He has never pitched more than 202 innings in a season. He has just two full seasons under his belt. His ERA away from the cavernous Oakland Coliseum was 3.62 in 2011 and 3.92 in 2010 (compared with 2.70 and 2.56 at home).
Unless the Athletics covet Brown, it's hard to imagine the Phillies putting together the most attractive package.
Even if they did match up on a trade, there's no guarantee the Phillies would be able to turn Hamels into something that would help them this year or next year. Wright would seem to be a perfect fit, but are the Mets are in bad enough PR shape as it is. Are they really going to trade the face of their franchise to their fiercest rival? Maybe there is another potential target out there. The Blue Jays could use another top-of-the-rotation starter to pair with Ricky Romero. But would D'Arnaud and other prospects be worth diminishing the 2012 roster? It's hard to imagine Toronto would be willing to deal young third baseman Brett Lawrie.
4) So what you're saying is. . .
It's an interesting rumor, and I don't doubt for a second that Amaro is out there exploring interest in his few bargaining chips: Hamels, Shane Victorino, Domonic Brown, etc. But on paper, it's hard to see a deal getting done. Chalk this one up to things that have been kicked around without any sunstantive progress. But hey, it gave us something to write about.