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Long-Term Cole Hamels Deal will be Tough for Phillies

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For the Phillies, last week’s arbitration-avoiding $15 million agreement with Cole Hamels was the easy part.  

After all, the Phillies knew that Hamels would be in their rotation for 2012 for somewhere in that dollar range, whether his contract came in a friendly negotiation, or at the arbitration table.

Unfortunately for Ruben Amaro Jr. and the rest of the Phillies’ brass, the next Hamels contract will not be quite so simple.  

After all, Hamels is a 28-year old star with a lot of fantastic pitching still ahead of him.  And when you possess a left arm like his, you tend to sign long-term contracts with at least nine digits after the dollar sign.Cole Hamels photo: Chuck Solomon- SI

Not that the Phillies have any problem with nine-figure contracts. The team has become such a financial powerhouse that they have actually become comfortable with payrolls that used to be associated with only the Yankees and Red Sox.  

The Phillies will soon begin the 2012 season with a payroll in the $170 million range, and will once again be favored to win the NL East and make a run at the World Series.

And now that Hamels is signed for 2012, many believe that Phillies will soon start negotiating a long-term deal with former World Series MVP. It’s a deal that will likely require five years and an average annual value of $20 million per season.  

But a quick look at the payroll beyond the 2012 season reveals a scary picture for those expecting the Phillies to work out that type of agreement with Cole Hamels.  

The Phillies already have $125.4 million committed to 13 players for the 2013 season. That figure no longer includes contracts Shane Victorino or Placido Placido, whose contracts will both expire next fall.  It also doesn’t include  Hamels or Joe Blanton.

So, if the Phillies continue to stick to a payroll limit in the $175 million range, they will have $50 million dollars to spend on the following starters: center field, third base, number three pitcher, number four pitcher.   

And oh by the way, there will still be eight other (albeit low-cost) players needed to fill out the team’s 2013 roster.

Those numbers are sure to be a real challenge for Amaro, especially if Hamels assumes $20 million of those remaining $50 million dollars.   

With an aging lineup and few offensive prospects in the minor leagues, the Phillies will have to commit some resources to a quality third baseman or centerfielder if they expect to continue winning division titles. But can they spruce up their offensive roster with low-cost players at important offensive positions like centerfield and third base?

Perhaps the Hamels situation wouldn’t be so intimidating if the payroll didn’t include $20 million (soon to be $25 million) for what could be a declining Ryan Howard. That $13 million per year for Jonathan Papelbon may also start to seem a bit exorbitant, particularly when comparable closers could have been had for considerably less.

In the end, the Phillies will have to consider two scenarios: Do they consider that three elite starting pitchers is the one way to maintain their contender status as their offense continues to decline?  Or, do they try to become more well-rounded by using some of their pitching money (ie, what would be Hamels’ extension money) to become a more complete team?

Their choice may be revealed over the next month. With Spring Training rapidly approaching, the clock is already ticking on their contract talks with Hamels. One would expect that Hamels will possibly not want to negotiate once the season begins, so Amaro will have to decide on his vision for the Phillies’ next five years.   

But the dollars and cents (or lack thereof) might determine whether or not that vision includes Cole Hamels.  

 

Matt Babiarz was born and raised in the Philadelphia area.  He graduated from the University of Alabama, but remained a very close observer of the Philadelphia sports scene.  He recently began covering the Phillies for Philly2Philly.com.   You can also read his work at Bleacherreport.com within the Philadelphia Phillies section. 

Matt can be contacted at mattbabz@comcast.net  

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Photos:
Upper Body: AP H.Rumpf Jr.
Full Body: SI Chuck Solomon