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Hamels Avoids Arbitration

We always knew Cole Hamels would be a Phillie in 2012.

After that, your guess is as good as mine.

Today, the Phils agreed on a one-year contract with the youngest of their Three Aces worth $15 million.  That’s a nice pay raise for Hamels, who made $9.5 million last year.

The fact that Hamels and the Phillies agreed to a deal before arbitration figures were announced is a positive sign.  It means the two sides are negotiating in good faith.  In fact, Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on Twitter today that Hamels’ agent, John Boggs, told him negotiations on a long-term deal will take place during Spring Training.

And Ruben Amaro seemed pleased as well, saying today (courtesy of David Hale at Delaware Online), “It’s a starting point to first get this deal done and then deal with any longterm discussions, [and] we’ll deal with them at the appropriate time. It won’t stop us from having continued discussions about it. We think this is a good place to be right now for him, and at some point we’ll work on something longer.”

Nice words by all.  Gather around and sing kumba ya.

Unfortunately, none of that means a long-term deal will be easily achieved.  A couple months ago, I wrote this about Hamels, and it remains true now…

If Hamels wants to stay in Philadelphia, something along the lines of a Jered Weaver contract would make sense for the Phillies in an ideal world.  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, it’s entirely possible Hamels may be aiming higher than that.

And he may be correct 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.  It would be smart for Hamels to look for a deal closer to Sabbathia’s than to 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).  How many $20 million players can one team realistically employ?

And therein lies the rub.  Hamels could probably get Sabbathia money on the open market.  Are the Phillies willing and capable of doing that kind of deal, given what they’ve already shelled out to Lee and Halladay?  Is there a chance that Hamels likes Philadelphia enough to give the team that drafted him a hometown discount?

And perhaps most importantly, am I going to have to sell my Hamels jersey on Ebay?

By the end of the 2012 season, the Los Angeles Dodgers will likely have new owners.  With Ethier, Kershaw, and Kemp, they have a nice nucleus of elite, young players with which to move forward.  Hamels is from California.  Seems to me Hamels in Dodger blue is a match made in heaven for both sides.  Is Hamels willing to give up that possibility unless the Phils go all-in and give him Sabbathia cash?

Frankly, I’m pessimistic a deal will get done.  Then again, Cliff Lee signed for less than market value, and perhaps Cole wants to stay.  And perhaps the Phillies will shock us all and give Hamels a six or seven-year deal at over $20 million a season.  I can’t see it happening, but it’s possible.

And take heart, Phils fans.  Even if Hamels leaves, the Phillies have enough cash to go out and get a Zach Grienke or someone of that ilk, to take his place.

So today, the Phillies and Hamels bought themselves a little time.  They prevented each other from thowing tomatoes at one another in an ugly arbitration hearing.  They made sure to put themselves on the best footing possible for a long-term negotiation.

I just don’t think it’s going to ultimately bear much fruit.

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