The #Astros remain in the thick of the Cole Hamels bidding, even after Kazmir trade. They're making big push, source says.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) July 28, 2015
As he noted in a subsequent tweet, the Astros are on Hamels' no-trade list, and any deal would require his consent to be finalized. Hamels himself, when asked about a month ago, said he would keep an open mind to all possible destinations.
However, Jayson Stark chimed in not long after, confirming the Astros making a push, but the wording made the likelihood of a potential deal seem bleak.
Notice that the Astros "made" a push, past tense, and then Stark followed it up with a source telling him that Hamels would not waive his clause to come to Houston. With little more to go on, it's hard to know how much stock to put into that source, but Stark, at least, seems to think that the Astros tried and were rebuffed.
Further adding to the confusion, Jon Heyman published a story this morning wondering if the Astros were still in the mix for Hamels, and saying that it seems someone at the ownership level may be driving much of Houston's interest in Hamels. He also tied them to a trio of Padres arms; closer extraordinaire Craig Kimbrel, who we knew about yesterday, as well as starters Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner:
Ross or Cashner plus Kimbrel are pitchers who intrigue the Astros, but while Hamels was long seen as an afterthought by them, there is some belief someone at the ownership level, perhaps managing partner Jim Crane, has some interest in Hamels.
Notable there is that Heyman confirms that the Astros and Padres either have definitely had talks at some point or are currently in talks, while merely wondering if the Astros and Hamels could end up a match. Reading between the lines, that seems to give some credence to Stark's idea that the Astros pursued Hamels for a time but are no longer seriously in the running, for whatever reason or combination of reasons.
Hamels is clearly the premier arm that is definitely available. He's posted an xFIP under 3.50 in each of the last five seasons, while throwing no fewer than the 204.2 innings he tossed last season in any of those years. That has established him as one of the game's top five southpaws.
The concerns with Hamels himself are twofold; first, he is owed $23.5 million per annum in each of the next three seasons, and if he were to use his no-trade clause to force the team trading for him to pick up his 2019 option year, that would be another $20 million.
Secondly is his age; at 31, he's no longer young by baseball's standards, and will be under contract until he's 34 years old (or 35 if he does indeed force the option to be picked up). Pitchers historically begin to age severely after turning 33 or so, and so there is real concern that half of the money owed him could be paid to a pitcher who is far less effective than he is now.
For Ross and Cashner's parts, they're both under 30 years old, and Cashner is under contract next season, with Ross under contract for two more years after this. Those years, being arbitration seasons, will also be much cheaper than the more than Hamels' yearly salary. Kimbrel remains one of the planet's most dominant relievers, but is owed a hefty salary each of the next two seasons.
It's hard to tell exactly where the Astros stand with the number of potential trading partners they've been tied to recently, but one thing that is clear is that they're certainly not done trying to improve this roster for a push at the 2015 playoffs. Based on the rumors, it also seems clear that pitching is the key target, rather than the offense.
UPDATE (1:40 PM CST): Ken Rosenthal has stoked the fires and given new life to the Hamels to Houston rumors: