Under typical circumstances, Texas Rangers starter Cole Hamels might be the prize of the trade deadline. He's a tested veteran with four All-Star appearances and a 2008 World Series MVP Award on his resume.
But these are not typical circumstances.
Hamels has a 4.72 ERA this season and he's allowed 23 home runs -- tied for second most in the majors behind Kansas City's Jakob Junis. After getting shelled by Oakland in a 15-3 loss Monday, Hamels is 1-3 with an ERA of 11.12 in June. Those numbers are reminiscent of Yu Darvish's implosion during his 2017 pre-deadline showcase before Texas traded him to the Dodgers.
As a result, things are strangely quiet on the Hamels front. An executive for one team in the starting-pitching market said the Rangers have "nothing'' going on with Hamels at the moment. Another club recently discussed Hamels on a conference call and came away with reservations that he can be an impact addition down the stretch.
So what's the problem? Hamels' velocity is down a tick from two years ago, and some scouts think that's enough to reduce the effectiveness of his changeup. But Hamels averaged 92.7 mph against Oakland and touched 94 on the gun, and he still got lit up by the A's. The bigger concern: He consistently fell behind in the count and threw only 55 strikes among his 92 pitches.
"It's all delivery and command,'' said an evaluator. "He's just making mistakes.''
Some Rangers officials think Hamels has been stressed out by all the trade speculation, and that it's weighing on him personally. Hamels and his wife, Heidi, have four children, and it was a major adjustment for them to leave Philadelphia for Texas at the 2015 trade deadline. It doesn't help that the Rangers are 23½ games out in the AL West and playing out the string.
If the July 31 deadline passes with no trade, that doesn't necessarily spell the end of Hamels-related speculation. If the fog clears, the pressure lifts and Hamels starts pitching to his historical levels, he's a prime candidate to be traded in August.
Hamels' contract allows him to veto trades to 20 clubs, and he would almost certainly want his $20 million option for 2019 exercised before he signs off on any deal. But the Rangers have made it clear they're willing to eat some of Hamels' money, and he shouldn't have any trouble clearing waivers.
Now that the Phillies-related buzz has dissipated, Hamels' best bet might be a relocation to the National League Central. The Brewers' starting pitching was middling even before Brent Suter blew out his elbow, and the Cubs are looking for a rotation upgrade. Seattle, the Yankees and several other clubs might be only one injury away from jumping in the mix.
In the interim, Texas isn't having much luck with its other trade chips. Shin-Soo Choo has been terrific, but he's elicited nothing more than a couple of nibbles. Beyond that, Jake Diekman, Keone Kela and Matt Moore are available amid a glut of relief options.
The Rangers are one of several teams sitting on a starting pitcher that they value more than other clubs do. Toronto's J.A. Happ, like Hamels, was mentioned prominently in trade speculation a few weeks ago. But the Happ rumors have cooled considerably of late.
"Everybody is looking for bullpen help, because the relievers out there are better,'' said a general manager. "What starter out there is really a must-have for a contender?''
What's next for the Orioles?
Now that the Orioles have moved their top priorities in Manny Machado and Zach Britton, what's next on the deadline agenda? Sources said, the Orioles are willing to engage on Jonathan Schoop and Kevin Gausman. "They're the real rebuild pieces,'' said a scout.
Any talks surrounding Adam Jones and Brad Brach could go right down to the July 31 deadline. Jones' situation is complicated by his personal ties to Baltimore and 10/5 service time rights, which give him final say over any trade. While Brach has a solid track record, he's having a subpar season (1.74 WHIP, 4.97 ERA) in a market filled with bullpen arms. "There are 10 Brad Brachs out there,'' said an NL scout.
Britton's appeal steadily increased with encouraging performances leading up to Tuesday's trade with the Yankees. He has thrown eight straight scoreless innings over a span of eight appearances dating back to June 30, and he's looked better each time out in his return from a ruptured Achilles.
"He hasn't pitched enough to be real sharp,'' said an AL personnel man. "But if it were me, I'd jump all over the guy. He doesn't have a feel for his breaking ball yet, and (the Orioles) don't have many save situations, so there's not a whole lot of adrenaline when he comes in the game. But if you get him to the right place, you'll be happy with him.
"He may have a hiccup early, but I think this guy is physically ready to be pitching deep into the year. He's got a fresh arm and he's ready to go.''