FORT MYERS, Fla. — The games haven’t even begun yet, and already the Phillies are scouting the Red Sox.
One of Philadelphia general manager Ruben Amaro’s top advisers, Charlie Kerfeld, was on hand Monday to watch all of the desirable Boston players the Phillies would like to see in a trade for Cole Hamels or perhaps Cliff Lee.
According to all accounts, Lee, 36, has thrown the ball well in Phillies camp after rehabbing an elbow injury. The feeling now is that Lee could be traded ahead of Hamels.
The price tag for Lee would be less. He makes $25 million this year and has a player option for $27.5 million in 2016 that can be bought out for $12.5 million. Teams such as the Red Sox would likely want to see Lee pitch a few times in spring training before they’d commit to giving up both player and financial resources for him. But Lee is in play.
There had been talk about Shane Victorino going back to Philadelphia, but he is 34, and the Phillies want young talent. Perhaps they would be open to taking on the salary if Boston took on Lee’s salary, but there also would have to be prospects in the deal.
The Red Sox and Phillies have been around the block several times on Hamels. The last time they had serious discussions, Boston was offering some major league talent, not prospects.
If that major league talent were, say, Xander Bogaerts, the Phillies would likely jump, but that’s not what was offered, according to a major league source.
The two teams will scout one another to death over the next few weeks. There’s really nothing more to see, but they’ll keep looking. If the Phillies can’t get what they want for Hamels and Lee, they’ll keep them and put them at the top of the rotation.
The Phillies want to get on with their rebuilding as quickly as possible. But they won’t settle for less than what they want.
Blake Swihart has been an object of their desire. And what Kerfeld saw was a bigger, stronger version than the Swihart he saw last season. There’s no more convincing to be done that Swihart is the real deal. But the Red Sox think so, too. And they just won’t let go of him.
There’s no desperation in Boston. The Red Sox have five good starting pitchers, and the early part of the season will be telling as to whether they think they need more. If there’s an injury or two in spring training, the desperation meter may register close to panic, but for now, no worries.
If the Phillies are willing to move off Swihart and Mookie Betts, there might be some combination of players they could pry from the Red Sox that would help in transforming them.
Guys such as Deven Marrero, Garin Cecchini, Henry Owens, Brian Johnson, and Eduardo Rodriguez are pretty good players. Can Jackie Bradley Jr. be salvaged as a possible piece? Could he improve his hitting enough to be a viable long-term answer in the Phillies’ outfield?
As much as the Phillies want to move on with their rebuilding by trading off Hamels, Lee, and Jonathan Papelbon, they’re also a team that doesn’t have to rush.
They’re a big-market team with big financial resources. They can afford to carry these guys until they get the right deal, even if that means waiting for the trade deadline when they might find a desperate buyer.
One interesting aspect of the Phillies’ situation is just how much money they are willing to eat.
In Hamels’s case, if the Red Sox have to guarantee his fifth-year option at $20 million, would they need some salary relief for the five years and $110 million left on his deal?
Would any team take on Lee’s guaranteed $37.5 million? We’ve already seen a Phillies-Brewers deal fall through when Milwaukee balked at taking on Papelbon’s vesting 2016 option of $13 million.
So there’s a lot of tricky business in these deals.
The Sox are of a mind to head into the season seeing whether Clay Buchholz can become the ace, whether Rick Porcello, at 26, can be a No. 1 pitcher after his breakthrough season with the Tigers last year, and whether Wade Miley can be a tough, Jon Lester-like pitcher from the left side.
To be sure, this won’t be the last time we see Kerfeld or the host of other Philadelphia scouts and advisers we saw at Red Sox games last season. Nothing really came of those visits.
But as a new season starts, and as the Red Sox have already signed one of the best Cuban players in years in Yoan Moncada, maybe they’d be willing to give up something now to acquire an elite pitcher such as Hamels to put them over the top in their division, or bend a little and give up something for a veteran presence such as Lee.
Ah yes, let the speculation begin again.