Lee's deal the blueprint for re-signing Hamels
On December 14, 2010, there was much rejoicing in the Phillies’ little corner of the world. That was the day the club successfully lured Cliff Lee back to town with a five-year, $120 million contract.
That was also the day that the road map for retaining Cole Hamels was drawn up.
The people that run the Phillies are way too smart not to have realized 19 months ago that they might eventually have to do for Hamels what they did for Lee.
Hamels was homegrown. He was younger. He was a talent on the rise. He was already an October legend. If his career kept ascending -- as it has -- he was going to be the jewel of the free-agent market after the 2012 season. Phillies officials had to know this. And they had to know it would take a contract comparable to Lee’s -- and then some because Hamels is five years younger -- to retain the guy.
A few days ago in Denver, Ruben Amaro Jr. said he remains committed to the ideal of building his team around strong starting pitching. He said his interest in signing Hamels to a contract extension in the coming weeks was sincere and that he was hoping to get to the “finish line,” preferably before the July 31 trade deadline.
Well then, it’s time to get to the finish line, or chart a new course.
Offer Hamels an average annual salary comparable to the other lefty in the clubhouse, the one Hamels has quietly had his sights on all along. We’re not talking about the $21.25 million that Matt Cain of the Giants is getting. We’re talking about Lee’s $24 million. Tack on an extra year, bring the term to six years, because Hamels is younger, and make the offer. A six-year deal worth $144 million is an “elite” contract and that’s the word agent John Boggs used back in January. It’s an offer that shows Hamels the respect he and his talent deserve.
The Phillies should type up this proposal, send it to Boggs and politely tell him this is as far as they will go. Hamels likes being a Phillie. His friend, Roy Halladay, says that “when push comes to shove” Hamels wants to stay. If Hamels rejects this offer, well, maybe he doesn’t want to stay in Philadelphia as much as he says he does. If he rejects it, well, maybe he’s not receiving the best possible advice because, regardless of who he pitches for the remainder of the season, he will make another dozen or so starts and every time a pitcher picks up a ball he risks injuring his money-maker; lest we forget, the pitching arm is one of the most fragile pieces or hardware in sports.
Sure, the Dodgers could offer Hamels seven years in December. Hamels could leave $25 million or more on the table by taking the Phillies’ offer now. But that’s just the difference between being filthy rich and super-filthy rich. Does it really matter?
We’ve all seen numbers thrown around. One report says the Phils are ready to go six years and $130 million. The average annual value on that deal would be $21.6 million -- nice work if you can get it, but not Cliff Lee money. An offer of $130 million, while obscene in many ways, would probably push Hamels to free agency.
Offer him Lee’s AAV over six years and I’d bet he signs. Hamels has played this free-agent dance perfectly down the middle, but I believe, deep in his heart, he wants to stay in the area where he has become a star, where he and his wife have begun to raise a young family, and where they have done marvelous charitable works.
And what if Hamels doesn’t sign? What if Lee + 1 is not enough?
Then the Phillies should apologize for nothing. They should hold their head high knowing that they offered a brilliant homegrown talent the largest contract in franchise history and he turned it down. They should shake his hand, thank him for six-plus years of wonderful service, thank him for all those great memories in 2008, promise him a spot on the Wall of Fame, and unashamedly hold a July 29 auction and trade him to the club offering the biggest return. Hamels is the type of talent a team like the Rangers, Angels or Dodgers add for one reason -- to win the World Series. That ought to be worth multiples of young players that could help the Phillies in coming seasons.
Hamels pitches Saturday afternoon. It could be his last start as a Phillie in Citizens Bank Park.
But it doesn’t have to be.
Follow the road map that was drawn up on Dec. 14, 2010. Give him a Cliff Lee salary with an extra year because he’s younger, homegrown and, well, that’s what it’s going to take to keep him, and this thing is probably done.
And if it isn’t? Best of luck, Cole. It was fun while it lasted. E-mail Jim Salisbury at email@example.com