Trade Value of Hamels and Lee

As reported this morning by Buster Olney, the Phillies are supposedly shopping Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. It’s a good idea to know how much each of them is actually worth with their large contracts taken into account. If the Blue Jays wanted to trade for them, what kind of surplus are they looking at getting back?

Cole Hamels

Cole Hamels

I will use our model of $7.5M/WAR this year, compounded 9% annually. Hamels is under contract through 2018 at $22.5M per year. He also has a vesting option of $24M for 2019 if he reaches 200 IP in 2018 and 400IP in 2017 and 2018 total, the vesting option is also null if he is on the DL with an arm injury at the end of 2018. If this option does not vest, the Phillies (or current team) have a $20M team option. Since Hamels projects to be still a marginal asset at this price, we will assume the Phillies (or current team) will exercise this option. Steamer currently projects 3.3 WAR for Hamels in 2014 and I will use Oliver’s 5 year projection age decline as a guideline for Hamels decline. Here are the numbers for Hamels:

Projected WAR
Contract (M)
$/WAR (M)
Surplus (M)
2019352.0$20 or $24$11.54$3.08 or ($0.92)
Total16.6$132.5 or $136.5$19.77 or $15.77

Hamels looks to be worth around $15-$20M in surplus over the remaining life of his contract. In comparison, Nik recently showed us┬áthat David Price has a surplus of about $25M, and Edwin Encarnacion has a surplus of around $56M. Hamels is not near the asset that these two are. From Pirates Prospects, pitchers in the top 26-50 prospect rank range average a surplus of $14.7M. According to many prospect ranking lists, both Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman may fall into this range, but they could also be in the lower 51-75 range with a surplus of $7.50M. Let’s give them an arbitrary $12M, but with $/WAR moving to $7.5 this year instead of $5 in the study, this should be around $18M. According to this, either Stroman or Sanchez would be a fair trade for Hamels. However, Sanchez and Stroman have the potential to be worth much more, but there is the risk that they could be worth much less. You can decide if you think Hamels is worth one of these two.

Cliff Lee

Cliff Lee - Phillies

It’s a little bit less clear how we should treat the final year of Lee’s contract, but we can try and decipher the scenarios. It states that the $27.5 option vests if ┬áLee reaches 200 IP in 2015 or 400 IP over 2014 and 2015. There is a $12.5M buyout on the option. It is unclear what happens if the option does not vest, so I will assume he will be a free agent if he does not reach those totals. Lee is owed $25M in the next two seasons, and since the buyout would be a loss of around $12M for the team, we will assume this does not happen. Similar to Hamels, we will use Steamer’s 3.8 WAR projection and Oliver’s 5 year projections as a guideline of decline. Here is a surplus breakdown of Lee:

Contract (M)
$/WAR (M)
Surplus (M)
2016373.0 or 0.0 $27.5 or 0$8.91($0.77) or 0
Total10.2 or 7.2$77.5 or $50$6.3 or $5.5

So Lee is worth around $6M in surplus. Lee making or not making his vesting option does not make that much of a difference in his value. This is definitely not worth one of Sanchez or Stroman. We’d have to step out of the top 100 prospect range to get value for Lee. Colby Rasmus is projected to be worth double Lee just this year, assuming the projected $6.5M arbitration figure and Steamers’ 3.3 WAR. Rasmus is projected to be worth $18.3M, around the same as Cole Hamels. In general, the asking price for Lee may be too high, but we have no idea what Rueben Amaro Jr. is looking for. Someone like Sean Nolin or Drew Hutchison might provide fair trade value, but like Sanchez and Stroman, ceilings are higher and floors are lower. Again, you can decide for yourself if you think one of these guys is worth Lee, but Sanchez and Stroman are definitely not.

Yes, baseball is definitely a chess game. At least we know Hamels and Lee know how to play!

Cliff Lee beating up on Hamels in a game of Chess

Cliff Lee supposedly beating up on Hamels in a game of Chess

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Author: Chris Carruthers

Chris has been a baseball (and Jays) fan for 15 years. He has also played since the age of 6, working his way through Little League and Babe Ruth Baseball as a catcher and first baseman. He got interested in sabermetrics after viewing the movie Moneyball. His continuous self-learning in sabermetrics and advanced stats is driven by his engineering background and love for numbers. Chris's go-to website is FanGraphs, where he has had a few previous community submissions. Chris also enjoys music and plays guitar in his sparse spare time from his studies. He also follows hockey and his favourite team, the Calgary Flames. Follow Chris on Twitter @CCBreakingBlue.

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  1. I think there is one issue with the analysis. What is the Jays abilitiy to get a 3-4 win pitcher for the next few years and what are those wins worth to the Jays?

    None of the FA pitchers project in that range. The ones that come close(ish) will require long financial committments. The team is built best for the next few years and the marginal value of wins for a contending is certainly higher than the average $/WAR.

    Also, if you’re counting quarters and dimes here, we might as well include the compensation picks that Lee or Hamels would almost certainly get the Jays when they hit free agency.

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    • It’s true that a marginal win for the Blue Jays right now would carry quite a bit more value than the flat market $/WAR rate. It’s a consideration that is hard to specifically quantify (I think), but it’s worth mentioning.

      Assigning money for future pick chances is tricky. Cliff Lee might not be a FA until his age 38 offseason. There’s a pretty big chance that he either isn’t good enough at that point to be worth a qualifying offer, or he simply retires. I don’t think a hypothetical pick in the rule 4 draft four years from now would carry significant value, but I suppose you could figure out the present $ value of that pick and then make some arbitrary (or calculated) % chance that Cliff Lee would actually reject a QO and sign elsewhere.

      We could say almost the exact same things about Hamels. He’s younger now but his contract is much longer.

      If the player in question was as talented as these two but only under control for a short amount of time, say a year or two, and a bit younger at FA, then I would say yes, we should apply a value for a future comp pick. But even then, you’d need to account for the fact that it’s not a sure thing. Josh Johnson is a great recent example.

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  2. I think a more realistic scenario is the phillies absorbing some of Lee or Hamels’ salary if they want a premium prospect like Sanchez or Stroman.

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