If you take that “go big or go home” mentality, then this is just about as big as it gets right now. No, I’m not actually suggesting an outright trade of Chris Carpenter for Cole Hamels, but I am suggesting that the Cardinals could basically replace Chris Carpenter with Cole Hamels. The problem is that I’m using the word “could”, and there is no guarantee that it would happen. It’s a complex play, and there are a couple scenarios for it playing out advantageously.
Scenario 1: IF Albert Pujols does not re-sign with the Cardinals, then let’s imagine that the team has about $25M earmarked for him that will suddenly go unspent. Additionally, Lance Berkman cost $8M in 2011, Ryan Theriot is $3.3M and Skip Schumaker‘s salary is $2.7M. Conveniently, that’s $39M that can used to basically replace 5 players, and Allen Craig and Daniel Descalso provide inexpensive in-house replacements for 2 of those players. That leaves about $38M to replace 3 players. Jered Weaver just signed an extension worth $85M over 5 years. If the Cardinals could land Hamels and sign him for something in the neighborhood of $17M per season, they would be getting a 27 year-old lefty in his prime. Also, they would still have about $21M left out of the remaining $38M to spend, and all they really need is a shortstop and a utility player of some sort.
Scenario 2: If Albert Pujols re-signs with the team, then the Cardinals could go after Cole Hamels and basically turn the $15M that they would’ve paid Chris Carpenter via his team option into a deal for Hamels. The only problem is that making a deal to try and land Hamels would all but signal the end of Carpenter’s time in St. Louis, so they better be sure that they get Hamels. If the Phillies spurn their offer, then the team loses out on Hamels, and it risks alienating Carp. It’s not a great plan to alienate Carp, but the alternative is to try and bring both pitchers into the fold at once. The only viable way to do that is to somehow trade Westbrook or Lohse…..or both. One would likely need to go to make room for Hamels in the rotation if Carp stays anyway, so they would need to make a deal happen. Westie’s contract is probably a little easier to move, but Lohse has been the more effective pitcher this year.
Scenario 3: Someone finally admits that 2012 may or may not be a playoff season, but the team is really being built for 2013 and beyond. It’s the 800 lb guerilla riding the elephant in the middle of the china store. Restructure Carp’s option to something that works for 2 years, and he eventually goes into the closer’s role or long relief once the young arms in the minors are ready. If Pujols is signed, then Berkman doesn’t get signed, and the team relies on guys like Jay, Craig, Descalso, and whoever can be brought on board to play SS next season. Make it a priority to sign Hamels to add to a rotation that will eventually include Wainwright and Garcia along with the best two starters to make it out of the minor league system by 2013.
If you can pry Hamels away from the Phillies, you might help weaken that team at a critical time. As Lee, Halladay, and Oswalt are getting older, it’s doubtful that they can continue to dominate as consistently without Hamels as the “other lefty”. Regardless, it shows the Cardinal fans that the team is willing to try and compete by not just outhitting the competition.
As a fan, I’d rather not have to choose between Carp and another pitcher, and I’d like to see both Carp and Hamels in St. Louis (along with Pujols). If Adam Wainwright gets healthy by mid-season 2012, the Cardinals could end next year with a rotation of Wainwright, Hamels, Carpenter, Garcia, and either Lohse or Westbrook. The bullpen could have Rzepcynski, Salas, Sanchez, McClellan, Motte, Boggs, and Lynn. Now, maybe I’m a little too close to the paint cans in the ManCave, but that looks like a fairly respectable list.
TIDBIT: If the Cardinals go “full price” on everybody, and that includes options on Carp, Yadier Molina, and Adam Wainwright along with $25M a season for Pujols and $17M for Hamels, the team would be at around $120M for 15 roster spots. If someone like Westbrook could be traded, they could probably hit opening day with a payroll of around $125M for the full roster. I’m in.
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