If there was one thing I was concerned about entering this offseason, it was the possibility that the Phillies would fail to lock up Cole Hamels to a multi-year extension.
As you all know and are probably tired of hearing by now, the 2012 season will be Cole’s last under team control in his current contract situation. His three-year, $20.5M extension ended at the conclusion of last season, and ’12 will be his final year of arbitration eligibility. The logical comparison often bandied about is Jered Weaver‘s five-year, &85M extension, signed this past August. The numbers bear out a close comparison. Hamels is almost 15 months younger, but both pitchers have about six years of Major League service, separated by 0.08 in ERA, 114 strikeouts, 16 walks and 29.2 innings. Despite concerns – Weaver with his cross-body delivery and Hamels with Minor League arm trouble – both have been durable, starting 30-plus games each of their past four seasons.
Only one is signed past the 2012 season, though, and it ain’t the one pitching for the Phillies this season. And that is quickly becoming a problem.
CSN’s Jim Salisbury recently posted a piece which details the club’s focus in signing Hamels to a one-year contract. That it’s even come to that is damning. I’ve held to the belief for a couple years running now that, if Hamels is allowed to play the 2012 season as a walk year, he will indeed walk right out of Philly to a new home at season’s end.
Consider Cole’s possible competition on the free agent market next winter. Obviously, things could change depending on how players perform, injuries and other miscellany throughout 2012, but at this moment, this is the 2013 free agent market. Matt Cain will command money. Zack Greinke should also probably expect to receive a healthy contract, but not on the same level. The next tier includes guys like James Shields and Ervin Santana, both of whom have reasonably affordable options (or, in Shields’s case, may be traded for and extended by their new team). They would be a half step below Hamels to begin with, but if they don’t reach the market, that’s more power yet to Cole.
The point is, Hamels and Cain are the heads of the class. There’s little potential of a Ryan Madson-type positional market flooding preventing Cole from cashing in. And guess who’s lurking? The Yankees, for one, who have an obvious need and plenty of dinero. The Red Sox had some rotation issues, too. And that’s not to mention any number of teams that wouldn’t love to add an ace before he turns 30.
It’s all gut feeling at this point. What I may be feeling, you may be sensing the opposite. And sure, a decent one-year deal could keep Hamels placated and away from running the gauntlet of an arbitration hearing. But he doesn’t own this city any type of loyalty or discount, especially to a fan base which, on a maddeningly large scale, wanted him run out of town after an unlucky 2009 and a front office that seems to think Ryan Howard and Jonathan Papelbon are worth major bucks, but not him. This is the game you play and the risk you take.
Hamels is entitled to every penny the market will bear, and he will get it, especially if he stays healthy and posts another non-2009. Call it fatalist or pessimist, but don’t forget to call it realist. The Phillies are big boys and can spend with the big dogs, but with more than $100M already committed to just six players in 2013, adding Hamels at potentially $17M-plus – a higher AAV than Weaver – will make the luxury tax loom even larger than it already does.
It’s an unnecessarily complex situation, given the Howard and Papelbon deals, but it’s complex nonetheless. Call it a kneejerk reaction, but as of this second, I don’t like the way this is shaping up one bit. Not one bit at all.