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Cardinal trade targets: Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels

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Over the last month, there have been a handful of players being constantly tied to the Cardinals; some are realistic trade targets, other not so much. This will be the second of a series of trade targets that the Cardinals have been reportedly interested in.

Pitching has been pretty high on the Cardinals list since Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia were placed on the DL and Shelby Miller and Carlos Martinez have flip-flopped between the rotation and bullpen. It’s amazing it’s come to this, since pitching was the strong spot of the Cardinals in spring training; unfortunately, injuries and regression have been harsh to the rotation.

It appears that many teams are sending scouts to Philadelphia; with the Phillies out of contention, many of their veterans are available. That means lefties Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are seeing their names in the rumor mill.

Lee is the more likely of the 2 to be traded, since he’s only got 2 guaranteed years left on his contract; Hamels has 4 more years and will likely be around for when the team is rebuilt.

Lee is making $48M through the end of next year; he’s owed just under $9.5M this year and $25M next, along with a $12.5M buyout of a $27.5M vesting option (triggered if he pitches 200 inning next year). It’s quite a bit for an injury prone pitcher on the wrong side of 30.

Lee has spent the last 2 months on the DL with a left elbow strain and just came off the DL Monday (July 21); in his first start back, he gave up 6 runs on 12 hits in just under 6 innings. He’s expected to make at least 1 more start before the deadline. Prior to that, he had a 3.18 ERA with a 8.1 strikeout per 9 in 10 starts. He’s still an effective pitcher when healthy.

There are a few problems with acquiring Lee. First off, the Cardinals are on his no-trade list, with 19 other teams. Lee has expressed his desire to pitch in St. Louis as a free agent, but he set up his list to include any realistic trade partner for the Phillies; the teams that he can go to are division rivals (Braves, Marlins, Mets, Nationals) and small market teams that can’t afford him (Indians, Astros, Twins, Padres, Rays). To make the trade and have Lee approve it, the Cardinals would probably have to guarantee his option.

That ties into the second problem: money. He’s making a lot for a health question mark and the Cardinals would probably have to move some players to make this work.

Hamels is the more appealing option. He’s 4 years younger than Lee and more reliable over the course of the season. He’s also a little cheaper; Hamels is locked up for $22.5M per season until 2018 with a team and vesting option for 2019. Like Lee, Hamels has a limited no-trade clause and can block trades to 20 teams; the Cardinals are not on that list.

The problem is the Phillies are on record saying they will not trade the younger lefty and he’s would like to stay in Philadelphia.

Either trade will be costly to the system. Lee’s been traded for big name prospects in the past (to Cleveland: Jason Knapp, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, and Lou Marson; to Philadelphia: Tyson Gillies, Phillippe Aumont, J.C. Ramirez; to Seattle: Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke – few of these have panned out though, but at the time they were quality prospects). Hamels would cost even more since he’s younger, more durable, and a little cheaper.

Philadelphia has also admitted that they would eat salary to “buy” prospects. The Phillies would probably start with Oscar Taveras as a negotiation point, but the Cardinals won’t bite. They would probably require Shelby Miller or Carlos Martinez as the main piece, with an additional prospect or 2 to be included.

It’s a high cost for Lee, but including Miller in a deal for Hamels might be worth it; you get a short-term fix and a long-term investment. If Miller and Greg Garcia (and maybe a lower level guy like Rowan Wick) could get the deal done, you’d have to seriously look into making the trade.

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