I'm probably alone in this view, but I think the Phillies should keep Cole Hamels.
The consensus around the web is that the Phillies need to engage in a fire sale of every asset that can return more than a bucket of baseballs, and Hamels tops the list of those who can generate something in return.
While I agree that the Phillies should trade anything that moves and isn't named Franco, Giles, or Hernandez, I'm less clear on the desirability of trading Hamels.
Here's how I see the Phillies' situation. They're awful, and nothing they do will improve them this year.
Next year, they're likely to be awful, but the following year 2017 is still unclear. I don't expect a parade in October 2017, but the 2017 season isn't at this point clearly likely to be as awful as this season.
When the Phillies return to dominance who on the current roster will still be around?
The Phillies have one everyday player (Franco) for the 2017 season, and they might have two or three more on the current roster. I consider Cesar Hernandez, Cameron Rupp, and Cody Asche as possible everyday players, though all three need to demonstrate significantly more before I'm sold on the prospect.
In addition, they have a great utility infielder in Freddy Galvis (think Wilson Valdez from 2010) and several plausible bullpen pieces: Elvis Araujo and Jake Diekman (despite struggles this season), and of course, the closer of the future in Ken Giles.
So, I see the Phillies needing four starting pitchers plus at least four everyday starters and one or two bullpen pieces. (Yes, that's basically a roster.)
Regarding the four everyday players, Phillies fans have to hope JP Crawford is one of them. There's some hope that Brock Stassi (recently named to the Eastern League All-star team) or Darin Ruf turns into an everyday first baseman. That still leaves at least two outfield positions open.
Roman Quinn, any body?
So, there are plausible players for most of the Phillies everyday holes, and those possibilities are likely to be in the majors next year or by 2017 at the latest.
What about the starting rotation?
Well, let's assume Aaron Nola is in fact a number three starter, not an ace, but also not just a guy to fill out a rotation. Where's the rest of the rotation in 2017 or even 2016?
Without Hamels, it's Nola plus four TBD slots.
With Hamels, you have two-thirds of a starting trio, and if Zach Elfin, Jesse Biddle, or Ben Lively makes it to the majors as something better than Aaron Harang, then you suddenly have a rotation.
I love the idea of Cole Hamels as the veteran who brings along a group of two or three young guns and teaches them how to be a professional.
Are the Phillies likely in the next few years to find anyone as good at nearly as good a contract to play that role in the free agent market?
For me, the answer is clearly no. There's no one likely to be available who is as good as Cole, and even if there were, they wouldn't come to the Phillies until after all of those piece above have fallen into place.
Contrast this rationale with the idea of trading Papelbon. Papelbon is a very successful, but overpaid, closer on a team who won't possibly be above .500 during the lifetime of his contract. There's absolutely no reason to keep Papelbon. He's already mentored Giles and the rest of the Phillies young arms in the bullpen enough, and it would take a literal miracle for the Phillies to be competitive before his existing contract ends.
TLDR: The Phillies might be competitive within the lifetime of Hamels' existing contract, and they're unlikely to get anyone as good as Hamels at anywhere nearly as good a contract during that time. So, they should keep him to either be the ace on a competitive squad in 2017 or 2018 or to mentor the next group of starters to usher in a new era after his existing contract expires.
It's a parody, except it's not
4 years ago