Sooner or later, it all comes down to money. We had a flurry of activity in Major League Baseball on Tuesday night, not even counting the full slate of 15 games. And all three of the deals that went down -- the Phillies' contract extension of Cole Hamels, the Dodgers' acquisition of Hanley Ramirez and the Pirates' acquisition of Wandy Rodriguez -- ultimately came down to cash. Cash, obviously, drove the Hamels deal, which will give the Phillies three pitchers with average annual values north of $20 million.
The Trade Deadline inspired a fascinating frenzy of in-season extension talks -- the kind of talks ordinarily tabled after Spring Training -- with two of the top starting pitchers in the sport. But while Hamels has signed the dotted line on his six-year, $144 million deal, Zack Greinke has not touched the reported five-year contract worth more than $100 million offered to him by the Brewers, thereby making him the most tempting trade candidate of all. Greinke certainly helped his stock with seven sparkling innings against the Phils on Tuesday night. Greinke's course of action is pretty common, as players this close to free agency ordinarily take advantage of the opportunity. But who could blame Hamels for accepting the second-richest contract ever proffered to a pitcher? In isolation, the Hamels contract seems an appropriate approximation of his current and future worth. For even though he's never won more than 15 games, as some have pointed out, his career adjusted ERA of 125 (25 points above average) is identical to that of CC Sabathia. And Hamels will be 34 when the guaranteed portion of his deal expires, so that's entirely reasonable. The bigger cause for concern is how the Phils will surround their well-compensated pitching staff in the building of a contending club? They routinely fill Citizens Bank Park, and they have a looming television contract, so they can afford the three aces, as well as the gargantuan Ryan Howard contract, the huge (for a reliever) Jonathan Papelbon deal, the $15 million they'll pay the oft-injured Chase Utley and the $11 million they'll pay Jimmy Rollins next season. But with somewhere in the neighborhood of $124 million committed to just those seven guys, one sees the need for incredible creativity elsewhere on the roster. And you see why dealing Hunter Pence, who is already making $10.4 million and entering his final round of arbitration-eligibility, might now be a priority. We also can't rule out the possibility, however faint, that Lee or even Halladay would be dealt either now or in the offseason, as the Phillies search to fight the effects of aging on their roster. Sometimes you pay for age, sometimes you pay for the promise of youth. That's what the Astros did in the Rodriguez trade. Teams tend to be protective of their prospects, and that's an understandable course of action given the ever-rising costs of arbitration and free agency. And so to get a small-market club like the Pirates, which has to be a player development machine in order to build a consistent contender, to fork over a hefty haul of young talent, you have to give up not only an appealing pitcher like Wandy, but also a decent amount of coin. That's what the Astros did, as they'll kick in approximately $12 million of Rodriguez's remaining salary through 2014, assuming the lefty picks up his 2014 option (worth $13 million). In return, the Astros received the Pirates' Nos. 7, 12 and 16 prospects, as ranked by MLB.com, in outfielder Robbie Grossman, left-hander Rudy Owens and left-hander Cotton Cain. A high price to pay for three unproven talents? Perhaps. But to an Astros team in full-scale rebuild mode, following last year's trades of Pence and Michael Bourn, and the previous year's swaps that sent Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt packing, it's a price worth paying to improve the farm system. And the Pirates, of course, dealt from their deep farm to get an established NL Central arm at a discount rate. Rodriguez should benefit from a park that's a little more pitcher-friendly, and his ground ball tendencies will improve the rotation of a Bucs team that's probably not done dealing. The risk-reward equation seems about even for both sides in the Astros-Pirates swap. In the Dodgers' acquisition of Ramirez, the risk is extremely low and the potential reward is extremely high. To get Ramirez and lefty reliever Randy Choate, the Dodgers gave up rookie right-hander Nathan Eovaldi and prospect Scott McGough. Really, it was a light return for a player of Ramirez's potential, and the reason it was light was because the Dodgers are paying all of the roughly $37 million that remains on Hanley's contract, which runs through 2014. So, again, money drove the deal. And with an aggressive new ownership, money is not the factor it once was in LA. I don't know what the Dodgers are getting in Ramirez. A former Rookie of the Year? A three-time All-Star? A guy who finished second in the MVP balloting just three years ago? Yes, they are getting all of these things. But they're also getting a man of mercurial mindset who, over the last two seasons, has contributed offensive production slightly below the league average. He has hit .245, gotten on base at a .328 clip, hit 24 home runs, driven in 92, stolen 34 bases. That homer, RBI and stolen base total used to be Hanley's norm for six months of baseball, not 10. Sure, a lack of health hurt in 2011, when he played just 92 games because of back and shoulder problems. But this year, he's played regularly, and his plate patience has disappeared. Perhaps Ramirez will prove to be one of those classic "change of scenery" guys. The Dodgers paid a hefty amount of money to find out. And the dollars were flying fast and furious Tuesday night.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.