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Cole Hamels would be an interesting alternative to Scherzer, Lester

If the St. Louis Cardinals are sincere in their search for a top of the rotation starter -- but they don't want to pay deep into the nine figure range to get one -- they could always make a run at Philadelphia Phillies ace Cole Hamels in trade.

Philadelphia has reportedly been quietly shopping Hamels who the team also dangled at the trade deadline.

The problem with that sort of deal is that the Phillies couldn't divest of Hamels in July because they wanted a ton in return for him. And I would be shocked if they aren't just as demanding now as they were a few months ago.

The attraction of Hamels is that he's 30 years old -- about the same age as Max Scherzer and Jon Lester -- but he's already signed and has played out two years and more than $40 million of the six-year, $144-million deal he inked in 2012. He's got $90 million guaranteed over the next four years and a $20 million option for 2019. 

So, if the Cardinals -- or another club -- wants to avoid the high number of total dollars signing a top free agent would require, Hamels could be their man. 

But when the Cardinals lost Oscar Taveras in a tragic crash, they lost a tremendous amount of their talent stockpile. Philadelphia supposedly wants three premium prospects for Hamels. I'm not sure if the Redbirds have three premium prospects they could afford to part with at this point.

Would a Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales offer get a deal done? Maybe. But the Cardinals couldn't afford to give up that much young talent for one player. 

If Taveras had lived, the players who went to Atlanta to land Jason Heyward might have made a nice core of a deal to land Hamels. Maybe Martinez thrown in with Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins would have got the job done.

As it is, the Cardinals might be better served to part with the money it would take to sign Max Scherzer of Jon Lester and keep the talent.

When you consider the buyout on Hamels' contract, he's making more than $24 million a year, on average. Albeit for a longer term, a team will likely land Lester or Scherzer for that kind of cash. And, as I mentioned yesterday in a post, the Cardinals would have some freedom to load a contract they wrote in a way that allows the club to hold off on the big payouts until the contracts of Jaime Garcia, Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta expire.

Also, If the Cardinals took on Cole's four remaining years, they'd be in a position where both their aces would have their deals expire at the same time. I'd prefer to see the contracts staggered than to see the Birds have to try to extend both Adam Wainwright and Hamels at the same time.

It's a gamble to sign a player to a long contract. But if Hamels had to have Tommy John surgery after being traded a club would lose half the length of his contract to his recovery from surgery and then the time it takes for the player to get his strength up and his mechanics back to normal. At least if the Cardinals signed Scherzer to a six-year deal they would likely get four good seasons out of six.

Beyond the financials, it would be very interesting to see Hamels in St. Louis because his statistics beyond the win-loss record are phenomenal. 

He's 48-38 over the last four seasons, his win total held down by the fact that he's played for a lousy team the last two years. His ERA over that span is 2.99 and he's allowed only 740 hits in 856 innings of work. He's struck out 810 while walking 205.