MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Hamels suitors set for dash to Deadline

Hamels suitors set for dash to Deadline

OK, the Rangers entered Monday three games below .500 (47-50), in third place in the American League West and 7 1/2 games behind the division-leading Angels. Not only are they 4 1/2 games back for an AL Wild Card spot, but they would have to jump over five teams to get into the postseason that way.

And these guys are actually serious about being a player in the Cole Hamels sweepstakes? Dang right.

That's why the Rangers are the strongest contender facing the Dodgers in the effort to acquire the Phillies' ace. Oh, the Yankees and Cubs also are considered possibilities, but they now appear to be more fallback positions for the Phils than strong factors.

And don't be fooled by the fact that already Scott Kazmir has been dealt from the A's to the Astros, and on Sunday, the Reds finalized the trade of Johnny Cueto to the Royals.

MLB Network analyzes Cueto trade

Hamels is a markedly different bargaining chip than the other starting pitchers being dangled. The left-hander, coming off a no-hitter against the Cubs on Saturday in what could well be his final start for the Phillies, has a long-term appeal.

Kazmir and Cueto will be free agents this offseason. Ditto on left-hander David Price of the Tigers, and right-handers Yovani Gallardo of the Rangers, Jeff Samardzija of the White Sox and Dan Haren of the Marlins.

Hamels, meanwhile, has a contract that runs through 2018 with an option for '19. He is guaranteed a minimum of $76.5 million, which includes a $6 million buyout on the option year, but he could be controlled through 2019 for a $90.5 million investment.

That is why the Phils are willing to hold out for what they feel will be a package including two prospects ready to take on a big league job. If they don't deal Hamels this week, they have the offseason, when the market could actually grow.

The Dodgers see the dual-purpose value of Hamels. They haven't even been to a World Series since 1988, having been eliminated in the National League Division Series five times and the NL Championship Series three times during that drought.

Only six other teams haven't appeared in the World Series in the past 26 years -- the Orioles, Mariners, Nationals, Cubs, Brewers and Pirates. And 14 teams have won a World Series championship during the Dodgers' drought, including five titles for the Yankees and three each for the Red Sox and Giants.

The Dodgers see a postseason rotation in which right-hander Zack Greinke is slotted between lefties Clayton Kershaw and Hamels as a key to ending that championship drought. A five-time postseason participant with the Phillies, Hamels is 7-4 with a 3.09 ERA in 13 starts.

Greinke's place in history

The Dodgers also are looking beyond 2015. Greinke has the option this fall to opt out of the final three years and $71 million of his contract.

The Rangers, meanwhile, are unsure enough about what will happen in the final two months of this season that they are willing to listen for offers for Gallardo, who, along with Colby Lewis, have been the team's only two consistent starting pitchers. Lewis, like Gallardo, is a free agent at season's end. Gallardo and Lewis are a combined 17-13 with a 3.86 ERA, compared to the rest of the rotation checking in at 15-23 with a 4.49 ERA.

Texas sees the chance to add the left-handed Hamels -- along with the expectation that right-hander Yu Darvish will be recovered from Tommy John surgery by next season -- as a major step in the team returning to contending status.

The Rangers don't have any big league-ready help for the rotation on the horizon in their farm system, but they do have the type of position prospect depth that they might be able to entice the Phils by building a package built around catcher Jorge Alfaro, rated the second-best prospect in their system, or outfielder Nomar Mazara, the club's No. 3 prospect.

And that, for now, would seem to give Texas an edge over the Dodgers, who have been adamant that they won't give up shortstop Corey Seager or left-hander Julio Urias, their top two ranked prospects. The lingering presence of the Rangers does add pressure on the Dodgers to reconsider.

Hamels is only 23-30 since the start of the 2013 season, but then the Phillies are 58 games below .500 as a team in that span, including 37-63 this season. Hamels, meanwhile, has not been drastically different in his other statistical accomplishments. He has a 3.19 ERA and has allowed a .239 average in that stretch, despite pitching in a very hitter-friendly ballpark. And Hamels is on his way to his ninth consecutive 180-inning season, having reached the 200-inning level six times, including each of the past five years.

The question to be answered this week is whether Hamels is headed to Texas or Los Angeles, or if he's simply going to stay put -- at least until the offseason -- in Philadelphia.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.