Can the Phillies Keep Cole Hamels?
Unfortunately, over the last few weeks, many of the offensive back-up options have been eliminated, and it appears two other possibilities, Michael Cuddyer and Carlos Beltran, are close to signing with other teams as well.
The Phils had some early interest in Cuddyer, but were scared off by his demands of a three-year, $30 million deal. And though the Phils were linked to Beltran around the trade deadline last year, he has not been mentioned as a possibility for the Phillies in any rumors this offseason.
However, there is one thing to consider. The assumption that the Phillies would use money allocated for Rollins to sign another offensive player fails to take into account what Cole Hamels may want in his contract negotiation talks.
It’s highly possible that if the Phillies re-sign Jimmy Rollins, they may not have enough money left over for Hamels.
I (@FelskeFiles) had an interesting Twitter exchange with Randy Miller yesterday (@RandyJMiller), who is the Flyers beat writer for the South Jersey Courier-Post and author of “Harry the K: The Remarkable Life of Harry Kalas” (a great holiday gift for any Phillies fan by the way). Miller was also the Phillies beat writer from 1996-2011 and apparently still has conversations with folks inside the organization.
Miller tweeted this to me yesterday concerning Hamels’ extension, saying “Talked to someone with Phils last night and was told ‘Hamels LOVES money.’ Look for Dodgers to make a run when the new owners are in place.”
He also tweeted this, saying “I hear Hamels will be very, very tough to sign. I would not be surprised AT ALL if he’s elsewhere in ’12.”
Now, just about all Major League players love money. And while I don’t know who Miller talked to in the Phils’ organization about Hamels, my guess is that his information is pretty accurate. The question is, how much money would the Phillies have to throw at Hamels to keep him here?
If Hamels wants to stay in Philadelphia, something along the lines of a Jered Weaver contract would make sense. Weaver signed with the Angels last year for 5 years and $85 million ($17 million/year) at 29 years old. For his career, Weaver is 82-47 with a 3.31 ERA, and an ERA+ of 128. Last year, he went 18-8 with a 2.41 ERA, had an ERA+ of 158, averaged 3.54Ks/BB and 6.6Ks/9IP.
Hamels’ numbers are almost identical to Weaver’s in every way except one… he’s two years younger than Weaver. In his career, Hamels is 74-54 with a 3.39 ERA and an ERA+ of 126. Last year, he went 14-9 with a career-best 2.79 ERA, had an ERA+ of 138, averaged 4.41 Ks/BB and 8.1 Ks/9IP.
At the time, Weaver’s contract looked like a good comp for what Hamels might want. However, based on the quote from a Phillies official concerning Hamels’ LOVE of money, it’s entirely possible he may be aiming higher than that.
And he may be right to reach for stratospheric cash.
Could he be looking for Cliff Lee money? Lee was 32 when he signed his six-year, $120 million ($20 million/year) deal with the Phillies. His career numbers are not as good as Hamels’, however, he pitched in the American League up to that point and has a Cy Young to his credit. Both pitchers have sterling postseason reputations as well, and Hamels is six years younger than Lee.
Could he be looking for C.C. Sabbathia money? Sabbathia was 28 when he signed his seven-year, $161 million ($23 million/year) pact with the Yankees before the 2009 season. Up to that point, Sabbathia had also won a Cy Young Award, and his numbers were slightly worse than Hamels’ although, again, he pitched most of his career in the American League up to that point.
The point is, Hamels’ camp can argue, with good reason, that he should be paid the same as Lee and Sabbathia. He’s younger, coming off his best season, was NLCS and World Series MVP in 2008, and with the exception of 2009, has had a superlative regular season and postseason career.
He’s entering the prime of his career and knows he could be in line for a huge payday. If Hamels is all about the money, and if he’s like most other athletes he probably is, you can bet he’ll be looking for a deal closer to Sabbathia’s rather than Weaver’s.
So, let’s assume Hamels is looking for a contract of around seven years and $160 million. That would average to about $23 million a year. Can the Phillies realistically afford that? The Phils already have three players making over $20 million per season (Lee, Halladay and Howard). They have over $126 million already committed to the 2012 roster, and they still need to come up with money for Hunter Pence, a shortstop and the list of players to whom they’ve offered arbitration. Can they afford to pay a fourth player more than $20 million a year?
Figure a nice raise for Pence after his best offensive season last year. In 2011, he made just shy of $7 million. A $13-14 million salary for 2012 doesn’t seem unreasonable. That brings the Phillies to about $140 million. Suppose the Phillies sign Rollins to a four-year deal worth about $13 million a season. Now the payroll is up around $153 million.
If Hamels is demanding a salary of more than $20 million a year, the Phillies would be faced with a payroll of around $173 million, and that’s without any of the arbitration-eligible players having been signed. Last year’s opening day payroll was $166 million.
It becomes a little easier to do that if Jimmy Rollins walks and you don’t replace his offense. The Phillies seem committed to a LF combination of John Mayberry Jr., Laynce Nix and Ty Wigginton. It appears Placido Polanco will remain the full-time starter at 3B. If the Phillies sign someone like Omar Vizquel to give them solid defense at SS and ease Freddy Galvis into the lineup toward the end of the year, perhaps the Phils can afford to pay through the nose to keep Hamels.
Losing Rollins also would give the Phillies financial flexibility at the trade deadline should Amaro decide the team needs an upgrade. Perhaps Polanco continues to be an offensive black hole at 3B and the Mets are ready to deal David Wright. Not signing Rollins gives the Phillies the flexibility to consider a trade like that from a financial standpoint.
The Phillies have always avoided signing starting pitchers to contracts longer than three years. They made an exception last year for Cliff Lee and it would make sense to do it again for their own home-grown star, who has largely avoided injury issues and appears to be getting better with each passing year.
A seven-year contract for Cole Hamels, if signed this offseason, would take him through his 34th birthday. Lee enters this season at 33, pitching better than he ever has. Halladay turns 34 this year, and he’s still regarded as the best starting pitcher in baseball. Is it a risk worth taking for Cole?
And if the Phillies decide that they’re dead-set against giving Cole anything larger than a Jered Weaver-type deal and there is no way they’ll be able to re-sign him, does it make sense to explore the trade market in July? Granted, the haul they would receive back wouldn’t be as much because he’d be an impending free agent, but it’s something Amaro would have to consider, especially if the offense is in the midst of one of their month-long slumps.
The point is, Jimmy Rollins’ signing could have an impact on whether Cole Hamels signs an extension with the Phillies. Perhaps the front office will decide that Hamels with worth the price, no matter what. And perhaps a contract with Hamels can be structured in such a way that the money escalates more towards the end of the deal. By that time, Halladay could be off the books, as well as Victorino, Utley and Polanco.
If Rollins does sign elsewhere, and Amaro does not sign a free agent this offseason to replace his offense, he will get skewered by the fine callers of WIP and The Fanatic. Memories are short and the Phillies have disappointed in the postseason the last two years. Most observers blame the offense. Right or wrong (and they would be wrong), Ruben would hear about it from a fan-base that has become fat on success.
But that fanbase would be wise to remember that, for every player Amaro signs now, that’s one player, and perhaps a better player, he won’t be able to sign later.
The futures of Hamels and Rollins are intertwined, and there may be no way to keep both on the roster after this season. As if the stakes for 2012 weren’t high enough already.