Cole Hamels and Matt Cain

Matt Cain signed a contract extension with the San Francisco Giants yesterday, spanning five years and totaling $112.5 million guaranteed. The right-hander is 27 years old and has crafted an impressive resume as one of the most effective and most underrated pitchers in baseball. Last year, Cain tossed 221 and two-thirds innings with a K/BB approaching three-to-one (20 percent/7 percent) and a 2.88 ERA.

Phillies fans should care about the Cain extension because it sets a floor for negotiations between the Phillies and Cole Hamels. Hamels will be eligible for free agency after the season, but both sides have expressed interest in continuing their partnership. Last year, Hamels tossed 216 innings with a K/BB approaching 4.5-to-one (23 percent/5 percent) and a 2.79 ERA. It was a career year for Hamels, who bounced back from a rough 2009 season by adding a cutter to his arsenal and improving his curveball, turning him into a four-pitch National League nightmare.

Should Hamels reach free agency, he is expected to draw plenty of interest from baseball’s richest teams. He is one of the three best lefties in the league, along with teammate Cliff Lee and Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Yankees, with an endless supply of American currency, and the newly-purchased Dodgers are expected to be among the most pursuant. Because Cain and Hamels are so similar in nearly every way aside from their pitching hands, the recent extension with the Giants means that the Phillies cannot reasonably offer Hamels anything excessively lower than five years at $112.5 million. The Phillies were hoping to begin the bidding at a lower level

One person with knowledge of the situation says the Phils know how much Hamels will cost – $20 million or more per season – and are set to pay it. The person said the length of the deal is an issue, that the Phillies would like to do a four-year deal and Hamels wants more.

… but now must start somewhere in the neighborhood of Cain’s contract. A signing was never likely to happen on Opening Day, as Jayson Stark explains:

Hamels said his understanding is the Phillies don’t want to sign him before Opening Day because then “they’d have to deal with the luxury tax.” However, one source says that baseball has changed its luxury-tax rules in the last year, so there would be no luxury-tax implications on the team for 2012 regardless, as long as Hamels’ salary for this year remained unchanged.

Once the regular season is underway, it is in the Phillies’ best interest to get Hamels locked up sooner rather than later. They played with fire with Jimmy Rollins last year and it very nearly cost them a productive shortstop, which would have been one more problem in an infield full of them. If Rollins hadn’t overestimated his own value and underestimated the aversion from other teams to his age and injury history, he very well could have been starting the 2012 season in another uniform. The Phillies won’t be so lucky if they go the same route with Hamels. Unlike Rollins, Hamels has youth and a clean bill of health on his side, along with all of the stuff he does on the mound.

The Phillies can oppose market value now, or oppose market value and a handful of very wealthy teams in the off-season. Hamels’ price, now with a defined floor, will not be this low in November. For a Phillies team that will only get older and more injury-prone going forward, keeping Hamels around will provide them more certainty. If the Phillies are competitive in 2013 and beyond, Hamels will be the single biggest reason why.

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13 comments

  1. Tony

    April 03, 2012 03:04 PM

    I think whether a deal gets done before free agency depends a lot on what Cole looks like in the first month, and since the schedule is dominated by relatively poor teams, I’d expect Cole to have stellar numbers by the end of April, at which point Ruben will open the checkbook. My guess is they throw 5 years / $120 million at him and he takes it. Considering what happened to his former teammate Madson, he’ll want his payday and multi-year deal locked up sooner rather than later.

  2. nik

    April 03, 2012 03:07 PM

    I’m hoping 5 years plus a vestion option is enough. If its not, I don’t think we should be giving him 6 years and we should just take our chances signing Grienke.

  3. Phillie697

    April 03, 2012 03:51 PM

    Instead of signing him after the Jared Weaver extension, we now have to deal with this. Yes, don’t cry over spilled milk… Except if RAJ does finally ink Hamels to, say, 5 years at $110M, people will say he did a GOOD job. Yeah, good job if you have the short-term memories of a dog.

  4. Scott G

    April 03, 2012 04:48 PM

    It’s been a long day, but… Tony, if Hamels comes out with stellar numbers, wouldn’t he feel like he has the hand and really push the envelope, or even want to test the market?

  5. awh

    April 03, 2012 07:38 PM

    Bill, well thought out piece with which I agree.

    Hamels will get paid. If it’s years at which the Phils are balking, they should keep in mind that they may want him around far longer than Halladay or Lee, just because of age differential.

    He’s the potential ace of the future, and he’s here now. He likes it in Philly and wants to stay, and he’s proven he can carry the load.

    It seems to me it’s far easier to keep a guy like that then attract him as an FA, when you might have to really overpay because of a bidding war.

    They gave 5 years to Lee, who is 4 years older, and it seems that CAin’s contract sets the floor on years as well.

    Time to bite the bullet and keep the homegrown ace locked up.

  6. Pat

    April 03, 2012 08:50 PM

    Totally agree with this. The major advantage that Cole has over Cain is a stellar K/BB ratio, which is amazingly 7th all time. Klaw made a good point that Hamels superior change up points to him being more of a sure thing long term. He can afford to lose a few MPHs off his fastball whereas Cain probably can’t.

    If Cole gets to free agency, could he be looking at a 7 or 8 year deal?

  7. EricL

    April 03, 2012 10:51 PM

    Pat, I think so.

    I’ve been turning it over in my head, and in light of the recent Votto/Prince/Pujols contracts I really wouldn’t be surprised–if Cole were to hit the open market–to see him go for something like 9/$200+.

    The salary paradigm has shifted in light of the new television money that teams are banking on, it seems. Not only their own television money, but the fear of the money the Dodgers are going to have to splash around, which I think was a big catalyst for the recent re-signings.

  8. awh

    April 04, 2012 12:13 AM

    Eric, I don’t know that I agree with 9/200, but I can sure see him getting 7/160-170.

    Keep in mind an 7-year deal only locks him up through age 35, and Halladay is 35 now.

    Sure, there’s risk involved, but there’s risk in any contract. It’s possible that 3 – 4 years from now Hamels could be in the top 3 pitchers in the NL. he’s already in the top 10.

  9. EricL

    April 04, 2012 12:59 AM

    Well, 7/$161 is what CC got from the Yankees, and that was below the actual value of that contract since it contained an opt-out clause for him in 2011. If you look at the 2009-2011 portion of CC’s deal and combine it with the extension he signed after opting out at the end of 2011, you essentially have a nine year deal worth $202 million provided the vesting option kicks in after 2016.

    I think if you consider the salary inflation since the time of that deal (12/08) and look at the dearth of young, quality starters on the free agent market, I don’t think 9/200ish is out of the realm of possibility on the open market. Five months ago I probably would have said the high end estimate would have been the original CC type deal of 7/170-180, but after watching Prince, Albert and Votto get close to a quarter-billion dollars each, I think he could certainly land something in 200 range. Hell, the Yankees reportedly offered a 7 year, ~$150 million dollar deal to Cliff Lee who, at the time, was going into his age 32 season. If a 32 year old Lee can get a 7 year offer I don’t see how a 28 year old Hamels doesn’t get something bigger and longer if he so desires.

    (And that’s a big part of it; I don’t know what Cole is looking for…whether he’d be content to sign the last big contract of his career or if he’s more intent on signing a shorter deal which allows him to retest the market when he’s 31/32 as Lee did.)

  10. EricL

    April 04, 2012 01:00 AM

    P.S. – I’m not saying I want the Phillies to tender such an offer, nor do I think they will. In fact, as much as it pains me to say it, if that’s what he’s looking for I’m not sure you re-sign him.

  11. MplsPhilsFan

    April 04, 2012 08:38 AM

    Perhaps I am being naive on this, but I do not think Hamels will end up signing a much different contract than what Cain signed. There may be some inflation, based on the Phillies having greater financial resources than the Giants, but I do not see him being offered a 7/$161 type deal. Something on the order of 5/120, which would be a slight increase over Cain’s contract makes sense. Here is how similar those two are:

    Cain – 7 years service 25 WAR
    Hamels – 6 years service 22.5 WAR

    Cain – 3.2 BB/9, 7.4 SO/9
    Hamels – 2.3 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 (advantage Cole)

    Cain – 21.1 IP in postseason 0 runs allowed
    Hamels – 81.2 IP in postseason 3.09 ERA, NLCS and WS MVP (even with the hardware, this one is pretty much a tie, although Cole has a longer track record)

    Both pitchers have 2 All Star Appearances and 2 appearances on the Cy Young balloting

    Cain has appeared 3 times on the Adjusted ERA leaderboard
    Cole has appeared 4 times

    When CC got his contract, he already had a Cy Young and had gotten serious MVP consideration. I don’t see that as a comparable for Cole. He deserves slightly more than Cain, but the two pitchers are extremely close in their stats

  12. Dan K.

    April 04, 2012 10:47 AM

    @697,

    Again, that assumes Hamels would accept the terms of the contract. I don’t think Hamels or his agent ever saw the Weaver deal as a comparable.

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