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Milwaukee Brewers speculatively listed as possible landing spot for Cole Hamels

There’s no actual reported interest on Milwaukee’s end at this time, however.

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MLB: Texas Rangers at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Today is May 18th. We are just about two months away from Major League Baseball’s annual All-Star Game, and a little more than 10 weeks away from the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline. So could there be a more perfect time to start talking about trade rumors?

The Texas Rangers are off to a rough 17-28 start and are currently in last place in the AL West, and better days don’t appear on the horizon for this season. Only five teams in baseball have a worse team ERA than the Rangers’ 4.71 mark, and only four teams are scoring fewer than Texas’ 3.96 runs per game. Their run differential mark for the season is already a putrid -60. According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the club has declared themselves “open for business”:

The Texas Rangers, owners of the fourth-worst record in the American League, are telling clubs they are open to trades, according to major-league sources. A few teams have made inquiries, but they mostly are telling the Rangers, “count us in” on specific players without actually pushing for deals, sources said.

Per Rosenthal, the Rangers would be willing to listen to offers on Adrian Beltre and he is believed to be willing to waive his no-trade clause in order to go to a contender. At this time, however, he is on the disabled list for a hamstring issue. Texas will entertain offers on other veteran players, but don’t appear motivated to move controllable assets like Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, or Delino DeShields, Jr. According to Ken’s sources, left-hander Cole Hamels is considered to be the most prominent Ranger that is likely to be moved.

The Hamels tidbit leads us into how the Milwaukee Brewers tie into all of this:

To be clear, Bob Nightengale isn’t reporting that the Brewers have expressed interest in Cole Hamels, at least not at this time. But the national narrative that the Brewers will need to add another starting pitcher continues, even as Milwaukee is thriving with their current low-cost rotation. Nightengale isn’t the only national writer suggesting that the Brewers will need to pursue a starter, either; just yesterday, Jon Heyman of Fanrag Sports had this to say within his post on the needs for all the MLB contenders:

The most obvious need is the same need they had this winter, and never addressed, and that is the rotation. With Chase Anderson on the DL, the need is pretty acute at present. The name that’s been most speculated as being linked to the Brewers is Chris Archer, and the Brewers have the prospects to get it done (they could also afford his contract).

We spent all winter discussing the merits of a Chris Archer trade, so I won’t dive too deeply into that here. I will note that Archer is not off to a very strong start this season, though; he owns a 5.01 ERA through 59.1 innings this season, covering 10 starts. His strikeout rate is down considerably, although his velocity and swinging strike rate are still at similar levels to last season. A 4.26 FIP suggests that there is perhaps a skosh of bad luck may be involved in his run prevention totals.

As for Hamels, he looks like a bit of a curious fit on the surface. He’s 34 this season and is earning a $22.5 mil salary, and has a $20 mil club option for 2019 that comes with a hefty $6 mil buyout if it is declined. He also has a limited no-trade clause that allows him to be dealt to only nine clubs without his consent, and the Brewers are not among that group of teams, per Rosenthal. So Hamels would need to be willing to waive his NTC in order for a deal to be consummated between the Rangers and Brewers.

Hamels has generated solid results so far this season, at least on the surface - he’s worked to a 3.48 ERA through his first 51.2 innings on the year. His strikeouts are up as well, and if the season ended today his 9.93 K/9 would be a career-best. He’s lost nearly two miles-per-hour on his average fastball over the last two years, though, and his career-worst hard contact rate allowed of 43.7% has led him to cough up nine gopher balls already in nine starts. His walk rate of 3.66 BB/9 would also be a career-worst, and both FIP- (112) and DRA- (134) feel that the totality of his contributions in 2018 have been well below-average.

It’s supremely unlikely that we’ll see any major deals go down until we are at least closer to the All-Star break, so in the meantime the 26-18 Brewers will continue to chug along with the starters that they have in house. As we explored yesterday, the current group of “initial out-getters” has combined for baseball’s 14th-best ERA at 4.10 even with Jimmy Nelson, Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, and Wade Miley all spending time on the disabled list. Anderson and Davies figure to return to action before long, and Nelson received good news from his checkup with Dr. Neal ElAttrache and will begin throwing again in 10 days with the hope of returning sometime in the season’s second half. The resurgent Junior Guerra is currently the club’s ERA leader after beginning the year in the minors and Jhoulys Chacin has been a steadying force after a tough first couple of starts. Brent Suter and Brandon Woodruff have also received multiple starts, and prospect Freddy Peralta will get his second big league start this weekend after striking out a club-record 13 batters in his MLB debut during 5.2 shutout innings against the Rockies.

Milwaukee’s dominant bullpen has helped to lessen the pressure on the starting staff, and the likes of Corbin Burnes, Aaron Wilkerson, Alec Asher, Adrian Houser, and others are currently serving as reserves down in the minor leagues. With that in mind, one could make an argument that starting pitching isn’t actually all that “acute” of a need in the Cream City. But that doesn’t figure to stop the rumors from flying, especially as we get deeper into the summer.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs