Cole Hamels, The Phillies, And The 7-Year Itch

Atlanta, GA, USA; (Editors note: Multiple exposure image) Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cole Hamels (35) pitches against the Atlanta Braves during the third inning at Turner Field. The Phillies defeated the Braves 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-US PRESSWIRE

Are the Phillies really going to forge ahead without Cole Hamels? The answer now might be different than it was just a couple of months ago.

The Cole Hamels situation is especially fascinating to me, and I've written about it here, here, and here over the past few months. There are a few reasons for the interest, but mostly it gives me a constant excuse to link to Ted Berg's repository of embarrassing Cole Hamels pictures.

Most interesting, though, is the idea that of all the players the Phillies have acquired, extended, and reacquired, that Cole Hamels might be the one they let go. Hamels was the homegrown ace who led the Phillies to their first World Series win in 28 seasons. Usually that sort of pedigree leads to long-term deals from rich teams.

But the Phillies have spent the last couple of offseasons desperately strip-mining their renewable resources at the expense of future generations. The Jimmy Rollins deal probably isn't going to look great in 2014, but what were they going to do in 2012 without a shortstop? Same goes with Jonathan Papelbon. Long-term deals to closers usually go the way of B.J. Ryan, but the Phillies were concerned with 2012, primarily.

And there are now two new wrinkles in the Hamels saga. The first:

Seven years. Matt Cain got five years, and he's roughly the same age, with a similar track record. This is negotiating time, so it's not like there's a ton of reasons to be completely honest with the media right now. It's not like players are dying to leak a quote like ...

Really, I'll settle for three years, but I'm secretly hoping for six, even though there's no way I'm worth that much. Have you seen me pitch?

And seven years is where teams back off, even if they really, really want the player in question. There's a Surgeon General's warning on every seven-year contract, as required by law. It's just a picture of Barry Zito.

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I don't know why Dr. Benjamin picked that picture as the warning, but whatever. Not here to judge. Point is that only a few teams will be crazy and desperate enough to give out a seven-year deal.

That crazy and/or desperate-enough team might be the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are sitting on a cartoonish sack of money like fat cats from an editorial cartoon about the Teapot Dome. The Dodgers have done everything short of make tiger sounds and wink at Hamels from across the room. They have a new owner and a (oft repeated) desire to spend money; Hamels is from Southern California and will be one of the best players on the market.

The second wrinkle: The Phillies are sort of bad right now, and Ruben Amaro, Jr. isn't backing away from his comments that the Phillies could be sellers at the trading deadline:

"I don’t expect us to be in a seller’s mode. But I also have to be realistic. If the team decides it doesn’t want to play the way we expect to play or play the caliber of baseball necessary to win, you can’t squeeze blood from a stone."

Amaro has made an out-of-the-blue trade for prospects before -- the first time Cliff Lee was on the Phillies, he was traded away for prospects. For some reason. Still not sure about that one. But Amaro isn't shy. If talks stall, and the Phillies continue stinking, Hamels could be swapped for younger players. Crazy to think of even just three months ago, but it makes a little sense now if you squint ...

In January, I pegged a Hamels extension at 95 percent. In March, about 75 percent. Now? I'm going 50/50. Hamels will get some ridiculous offers if he reaches free agency, especially with Cain off the market. Hamels isn't going to go for the ol' hometown discount, and the Phillies are playing their worst stretch of baseball in years. That could be a recipe for a much, much different Phillies team next year.

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