Four years ago, I learned one of the best lessons that I could learn as a writer from Joe Posnanski; a lesson he learned from the God of sabermetrics Bill James. Everybody’s got prospects. Whether a team is good, bad, smart or dumb, they all got prospects.
In fact every team has dozens of prospects. You can look at Baseball America’s website and every team will have over 30 prospects each. There’s a top 100 prospect list every year. Yet only a percentage are going to actually make it past AAA ball and fewer will be stars.
So the point of the lesson is if a team like the Royals trades Zack Greinke (that was the trade Posnanski was covering in the piece) for four prospects, it actually doesn’t mean a thing. Prospects are called prospects because of potential. Not because they are proven players. Put my in-athletic butt into a pair of tight white pants and toss me a bat and I can be called a prospect for the Rangers.
But you’ll never see me at the major league level.
We let ourselves get hyped about prospects because we get hyped about potential. We love to think that everything will go right and the perfect scenario happens. It’s human nature.
But the reality is that potential is worth a seven-dollar bill if it isn’t fulfilled. So let’s talk about what the Rangers gave up in order to get Cole Hamels.
They gave up five prospects and a former all-star in Matt Harrison. The Matt Harrison dump is a steal in itself for the Rangers who backloaded the lefty’s contract and save themselves over 26 million in money now that Philly general manager Ruben Amaro takes him off their hands.
It’s very likely Harrison, who had a spinal fusion, will never pitch at an all star level again. This won’t hurt the Phillies as much though except in short term money which they can easily afford and avoid the luxury tax. Maybe a miracle happens and Harrison comes back strong. He’s a good pitcher when healthy.
Now, onto the prospects: OF Nick Williams, C Jorge Alfaro, RHP Jake Thompson, RHP Jerad Eickhoff and RHP Alec Asher.
All solid prospects, but are they developing into solid players or does Philly need to hope and pray to the baseball gods for these guys to soar about their supposed ceilings?
Nick Williams is a gem of a prospect. At age 21 he’s in AA ball and has shown excellent promise. He bats just a point under .300 and has got on base regularly with shades of power shown off (.299/.357/.479 and 13 homers in 97 games). The Phillies could have an everyday outfielder within a year or two depending on how he progresses/when Amaro wants to promote him.
Jorge Alfaro was a player that Amaro obviously coveted because he has looked for a catcher to succeed Carlos Ruiz for a while now. Rated as the Rangers third best prospect, he’s shown promise but lately his strikeouts have gone up, his OBA has gone down from .343 to .314, and his power has not improved. He’s a talented .260-ish batter with a solid glove. But he’s not been improving at the rate that he was supposed to. He’s a solid catching prospect but he’s not a superstar in the making unless a massive improvement is made.
Jake Thompson was the Rangers second-best prospect according to Baseball America and 43rd overall. He has a lot of potential but is currently struggling a bit in AA ball. Jerad Eickhoff is a 25-year-old AAA pitcher who is average there. If he can improve his results, he still has a shot at the majors but at his age, you wonder if he’ll ever get it together. Then Alec Asher is almost in the same boat as Eickhoff except he’s 24 instead of 25. He’s a potential good pitcher but will he get it together in AAA.
We have the analysis. Three potential stars but all in AA and two guys who AAA but are at an age where maybe they start or maybe promoted for bullpen help only
So the Phillies did the right thing, but is the deal for Texas truly that bad? Considering they have already invested a great deal in a middle-aged to somewhat old roster and doesn’t have time to wait for children to develop? Shin Soo Choo, Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton, Prince Fielder, are all above the age 30 mark. The Rangers want to try to win now, then they’ll rebuild because it is actually almost impossible to keep steady young talent at all positions at nearly all times.
Teams that get that are often lucky with their prospects and scouting. So now, the Rangers gave up a bit of their farm, but hardly anyone who was ripe for harvest and a sure thing. A lot of their top prospect are still in Texas and they will be called up next year or possibly in September if the Rangers get a late season push towards the playoffs.
Then next year, the Rangers will have Holland, Hamels, Darvish for a front line rotation, possibly a rejuvenated lineup and a shot to make postseason. It all comes down to health and production. It might not happen, but it could lead to a dominant run for the next 1-3 years. It’s a risky move but it’s riskier in a way to not make it, the prospects don’t turn out, Matt Harrison never pitches at a productive level again and then the Rangers are a middle of the pack team or a weak wild card at best.
Hamels can put them over the edge because the Rangers are in an excellent hitter’s ballpark where aging batters can have better stats while the Rangers pitching, minus a few question marks of health, is entering into its prime. Hamels may be 31, but several lefties have had their absolute best seasons in the later arc of their careers like Randy Johnson, Sandy Koufax, and Cliff Lee. That’s not a guarantee mind you, but an interesting factoid to consider.
The Rangers are going for it while the Phillies are giving up. Two of the four aces have retired, Lee underwent Tommy John surgery and now all was left was to trade Hamels and get what they could for him. If all goes right, they have a younger cheaper team to build free agents around and get back into contention. They weren’t going to contend with Hamels there barring some miracle.
It makes complete sense to get what they can while Hamels was literally coming off a no-hitter.
And the critics will say Amaro has ripped off the Rangers and will get the Phillies back in it because he got prospects. Everybody’s got prospects.
Only now, the Rangers have Cole Hamels.