Cole Hamels, left, of the Philadelphia Phillies and team Senior Vice President and General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. announce Hamels six-year, $144 million contract extension before the start of their MLB baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Everyone's focused on what Cole Hamels will make in five years. It's probably a better idea to look at the deal one season at a time.
The sound of a million baseball writers on a million computers, typing a million words about the millions of dollars the Phillies have committed to a handful of players. We are staring into the abyss, and the abyss is staring back at us, waiting to make a snarky Ryan Howard joke.
So, yeah, you're going to read a lot about the money the Phillies have committed to their future payroll. You've probably read a few articles already. But it's not because of unoriginality. It's because it's a lot of freaking money. It's like how you'll never read a retrospective of Thriller that doesn't include something about how well the album sold. Sure, you probably know it was the greatest selling album ever, but here's that number again: 110 million albums. One hundred and ten million albums. It's worth repeating again and again. It's just that amazing.
The Phillies will have over $132 million committed to eight players next year. That leaves them needing 17 players for $46 million if they don't want to go over the luxury tax. A good breakdown (pre-Hamels) can be found here.
There it is. The quota is filled. An article about the Phillies has to include something about future payrolls, or else the bus explodes. Have no choice. But it's a lot of freaking money. And it's important when considering how the Phillies will approach the trading deadline, the offseason, and everything after. So, yeah, it gets mentioned.
It's usually mentioned in the wrong way, though. It's usually mentioned in a lolphillies context, as if the team is going to show up next year wearing barrels with straps instead of uniforms, and the Phillies' fans will wander around Citizen's Bank Park with wheelbarrows filled with devalued Phillies-bucks like a scene from post-war Germany.
But while the Phillies will need to do some serious payroll finagling to get the payroll under control for 2013 and 2014, they needed Cole Hamels. Absolutely needed him. If you're going to pay Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay and Jonathan Papelbon and Ryan Howard and Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins next year, what's the point without Hamels? He's the only player without serious questions in the group. Without him, the team is paying a lot for a 2013 roster with more questions than answers. Might as well max out the credit cards and make sure next year's team is substantially better.
If they traded Hamels for prospects, they would still have had to deal with the Howard contract. They'd still have Utley and his Knees of Mystery. They'd still worry that Halladay is on the decline, and that Lee was more than just unlucky. The realized fears that left the team in last place would still be around, this time without Cole Hamels. It helps that he's a homegrown, popular player, too. It's a PR thing as much as a baseball thing, and Phillies fans wouldn't have been thrilled with a complete rebuild. It sounds exciting when the prospects are coming in, but then you're at the park one day in 2013, buying a $9 beer, and listening to Melvin Mora's name coming over the P.A. A complete rebuild is never as glamorous as you think it is the July before.
The Hamels deal probably gives you an idea of what they're going to do at the deadline, too. Hunter Pence is going to be pricey next year, but he's not a long-term commitment. Unless the Phillies could get back a major-league ready player -- something between a prospect and a known quantity, akin to what Josh Reddick looked like when he was with the Red Sox last year -- it wouldn't make sense to deal Pence for a bunch of 18-year-olds with live arms and all sorts of promise. No one knows what the Phillies will need in 2016. In 2013, they'll probably need Pence.
Victorino is different as a pending free agent, and he certainly could be traded. But it'd make a lot more sense for the Phillies to look for instant help -- young bullpen arms, or a semi-prospect who can fill in around the infield. And in the offseason, they'll look to replace Victorino with someone who comes cheap on a one- or two-year deal. Think Cody Ross.
Oh, god, I didn't mean Phillies fans were supposed to think about the actual Cody Ross. Look at all that blood and spittle. I meant the idea of a player like him -- a short-term deal to a player who falls through the cracks of the offseason.
Although, you know, Ross will be on the market …
Enough! The point isn't to troll Phillies fans. No more than usual, at least. It's to highlight that Hamels is a long-term move that will help in the short term for a team that is built for the short term like no other team in baseball. Hamels made sense for them in 2013. They'll worry about the end of the contract whenever they need to. For now, though, he's extending the window that might have closed without him. It doesn't matter if it's a good move in 2016. It's going to help keep the short-term hopes of a short-term team alive in the short term. That's worth a lot, actually.