While we already know a few teams that are in the trade sweepstakes for Cole Hamels, that doesn't necessarily mean they need him the most. The starting rotation for the Cubs has MLB's third best FIP; the Cardinals staff collectively has an ERA below two; and despite an ugly ERA of 5.73 for the Red Sox starting five, their peripherals look encouraging. These teams will likely be a part of all the rumors until he's finally traded, but there are at least five teams that could all use Hamels' services more than the aforementioned three.
Once again the Blue Jays rotation is underperforming
For a few seasons now, the Blue Jays have been expected to contend in the AL East and return to the playoffs for the first time since 1993. While 2015 looked promising, they haven't lived up to expectations and are one game below .500. The starting rotation has been a problem for some time now, as their ERA has finished in the bottom ten since 2010.
Despite their slow start, the Jays are just 3.5 games back of the Rays, and are in no way out of the playoff race. Hamels would be a wonderful upgrade, and give them a true ace, something they've lacked for quite some time.
The good thing about the Phillies is that because their need for prospects is so great, there isn't really any one position that they're targeting. Toronto has the 10th best farm system according to Baseball America, but it still may be difficult for them to put together an acceptable trade package. It remains to be seen who they would deem untouchable, but Daniel Norris, Aaron Sanchez, and Devon Travis seem like good bets.
If Hamels were traded north of the border, not only would he immediately become their best pitcher, but consequently, would also force the Red Sox to explore other possibilities for their rotation, should they deem it necessary.
The White Sox rotation is a mess
Like the Blue Jays, the White Sox were expected to contend in their division this year after some serious upgrades, but are just 8-14 through the first month of play. None of their starters has performed well thus far and have an ERA of 4.56. While Chris Sale and Jeff Samardzija have been knocked around early on, they're firmly entrenched in the rotation; however the back-end is a prime candidate for change.
They've already called up top prospect Carlos Rodon to pitch out of the bullpen, but his future is as a starter. Rodon will likely step into the rotation at some point in 2015, which leaves two spots for Rick Hahn to upgrade. Unfortunately for the White Sox, their farm system is not ripe with talent. Baseball America has them ranked 20th, which clouds the possibility of trading for Hamels.
While the Phillies don't have one glaring need, the Sox don't have that one big prospect to build a deal around. It's impossible to know exactly what's going to make Ruben Amaro pull the trigger, but if there's any truth to the rumor that he wanted Joc Pederson, Julio Urias, and Corey Seager from the Dodgers, the White Sox are a long shot.
Could the Giants pull something off?
The Giants are currently flush with starters, but aside from Madison Bumgarner aren't set up too well for the future. While he's performed spectacularly, rookie Chris Heston is still an unknown going forward; Tim Lincecum is a free agent after this season; Tim Hudson is set to retire; Jake Peavy is hurt and only signed through 2016; and Matt Cain has no clear return date.
At the start of the Giants incredible run of championships, pitching was the forefront of their attack; however in 2015 it's more of a question mark than an exclamation point.
Part of Hamels' appeal is the fact that he's already signed to a deal, which amounts to roughly more than $100 million through 2019. If he is traded this year, the team that acquires him would essentially be getting four and half years of an ace, for less than market value. The Giants would be able to pair Hamels and Bumgarner at the top of their rotation for another playoff push, with Heston, Hudson, Lincecum, and Cain picking up the rest.
While their farm system is ranked 27th overall, they still have some intriguing pieces. Kyle Crick is an incredibly tantalizing talent, as evidenced by his K/9 of 13.50, but his walk rate is still unacceptable. At just 22 years of age, Crick has time to mature, and if he's ever able to improve his control, has the ability to be a valuable starter. Hunter Strickland, Matt Duffy, and Ty Blach would likely be a part of any negotiations, but the Giants may not have enough to put together a deal.
How will the Mariners react to their shaky rotation?
Before the season began, the Mariners were the popular pick by many to represent the AL in the 2015 World Series, but are just 11-15. The ERA of the starting rotation thus far is 4.26, which ranks as the 8th worst in MLB. Felix Hernandez has been his usual dominant self, but the pitchers behind him have been a huge disappointment.
Hisashi Iwakuma is giving up HR's at a prolific rate of 2.79 per nine innings; Taijuan Walker is struggling mightily after a spring training in which he allowed just two earned runs across 27 innings; and James Paxton has been a mixed bag thus far.
While Seattle lacks a lot of depth in their farm system, they still have some attractive prospects in Alex Jackson, D.J. Peterson, and Ketel Marte. As the Mariners haven't yet been officially linked to Hamels, it's purely speculative on what they'd be willing to give up, but Walker might not be off the table. It was reported last year that the relationship between himself and the Mariners may have soured, and with his struggles, may find himself as trade bait for a potential blockbuster.
Will Jeff Lunhow go all in for 2015?
The Astros have been the punching bag of MLB for the past few seasons, but early in 2015, surprisingly own the AL's best record at 18-8. This hot start has caused a dramatic shift in the way the Astros are talked about, and currently look like buyers. While they have a very powerful group (as evidenced by their team ISO of .194, 2nd in MLB), they lack a formidable starting rotation.
Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh have been pitching admirably, but the back-end of the Astros rotation is not good. They may be limited by their payroll in the pursuit of a starting pitcher, but could still be a realistic possibility contingent upon on how much money the Phillies are willing to eat.
While the overall strength of their farm system varies depending on the source (Keith Law has them ranked 3rd while Baseball America has them 14th), they likely have the prospects to pull off a deal. Carlos Correa and Mark Appel are unequivocally untouchable, but Lunhow has recently shown a willingness to part with big name prospects.
The Cubs, Cardinals, and Red Sox figure to remain at the top of the Hamels rumor mill, but there's always a chance for a mystery team to come in at the last minute. Amaro has held onto his biggest chip for much longer than was expected, and isn't going to do anything until his needs are satisfied.