…Hamels looks in, bottom of the ninth, nobody on, two out, two strikes …here’s the pitch…STRIKE THREE!!!! The Astros have won their first ever World Series behind a dominating performance from Cole Hamels…
In June of 2014, Sports Illustrated declared that the Houston Astros would win the 2017 World Series. This offseason, the Astros management has given fans reason to believe that they may be on their way to reaching that goal. The Astros appear to have moved on to the next phase of their “Process” and after years of embarrassing baseball, there are signs of progress. However, if Houston is serious about the World Series, they need to remember that pitching wins championships and Cole Hamels is exactly who the Astros need.
After years of stockpiling young talent in the minor leagues, Houston has finally taken steps to improve the major league ball club. The team spent money to improve the bullpen by signing Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson. They used their talent-rich farm system to acquire Evan Gattis and Hank Conger. In other transactions, they added Colby Rasmus, Jed Lowrie Dan Straily, and Luis Valbuena. All of these moves, when added to the young nucleus already assembled (George Springer, Jose Altuve among others), have made for a deep lineup, and a solid bullpen. They have given the Astros a chance to be competitive and have made the team relevant in the eyes of the baseball community. But have they positioned themselves to be championship contenders?
No one is expecting the Astros to be ready to compete for a World Series ring this year but if they are serious about making a run in the next few years they need to continue the building process now. The one position where the Astros fall short is at starting pitcher. The current roster will be anchored by Scott Feldman, Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh. The team seems content on having Asher Wojciechowski, Alex White, Brett Oberholtzer, Sam Deduno and Straily battle it out in spring training for the remaining two starting spots. This is not a championship pitching staff. If the Astros are serious about contending by 2017, they need at least one, if not two aces. The problem is that those types of pitchers aren’t easy to find. They are either made, through the farm system, or bought; and that can be very expensive. Luckily, there is a perfect fit that is available to anchor the next great Astros pitching staff – Cole Hamels.
Cole Hamels is an ace. He has proven that he can handle the bright lights of the postseason and lead a staff to a championship. He was the 2008 NLCS and World Series MVP and most importantly he knows what it takes to earn a ring. He has 108 career wins, 1707 career strikeouts, his career ERA is 3.27 and he just turned 31. He is everything the Astros could ever want to anchor their rotation for the next five years. This brings me to my next point – his contract.
Hamels will not come cheap. He is signed through 2018 at $23.5 million dollars a year. He also has a no-trade clause, which currently excludes him from being traded to the Astros without his consent. Any trade for Hamels to Houston will almost certainly have the Astros guaranteeing a fifth-year option worth an additional $20 million. But before you dismiss Mr. Hamels due to finances, you must realize that this is a relative bargain for “aces” these days; see the 7 year/$210 million dollar deal that Max Scherzer just signed.
“There is definite potential in the minor leagues but no one knows how they will perform at the big league level…”
There are other options: the Astros are in the process of developing several potential aces in Mark Appel, Vincent Velasquez and Josh Hader to name a few and this next offseason will be deep in starting pitching with established “aces” such as Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmerman, David Price and Zack Greinke potentially testing the free agent market. The problem with both of these scenarios is that they don’t come with any guarantees.
There is definite potential in the minor leagues but no one knows how they will perform at the big league level and while there will be experience on the free agent market, the Astros will not be the only team bidding on their services. In order to lure premium players to Houston, you will have to show them that you are serious about winning, seriously overpay them or both. However, if you have already shown the rest of the baseball world that you are serious by aggressively obtaining Cole Hamels and your young talent blossoms this year with the new additions, then others may be more eager to join the post-season march.
Assuming Hamels agreed to waive his no-trade clause to Houston, what would it take to acquire him? Most likely it would take two of the aforementioned young pitchers and at least one additional top prospect such as Domingo Santana. Depending on which combination of prospects, it will be worth it. It is one of the reasons the Astros have been stockpiling young talent. There may also be a way to negotiate that some of his salary be paid by Philadelphia making Hamels that much more of a bargain. Opportunities to acquire this type of talent do not present themselves very often. As painful as it may be to part with the high-end prospects, the Astros need to make a strong play for Hamels before teams like the Red Sox and Cubs decide to use their prospects. The clock is ticking.
Cole Hamels is the perfect piece in the Astros climb to the World Series. He is a leader, champion and in his prime. He is signed for relatively reasonable money for the next 4-5 years, and his contract will be expiring right when the Astros young stars are due to make their big deals. He anchors the pitching staff and he adds immediate legitimacy to the organization in the eyes of other free agents. He is not the final piece but he should be the next piece.
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