Could Cole Hamels Get One of the Largest Contracts in Baseball History?

By Cody Swartz

The Philadelphia Phillies recently inked Cole Hamels to a one-year deal worth $15 million for next year, but that only delays the long-term deal Hamels is due after 2012.

Hamels is just 28 years old and has several factors in his favor: He’s a left-handed pitcher, he’s been incredibly successful in his six-year major league career, and he’s stayed relatively injury-free.

Hamels is 74-54 with a 3.39 lifetime ERA to go with a pair of All-Star selections, an NLCS MVP award, and a World Series MVP. He is coming off his best year ever, having gone 14-9 with a 2.79 ERA and career bests in complete games (3), WHIP (0.986), walks per nine innings (1.8), home runs per nine innings (0.8), and strikeout to walk ratio (4.41).

Hamels was a two-pitch guy when he won the World Series in 2008, effectively beating hitters with his fastball-changeup combo. Now that he’s added a cutter to his repertoire, he’s become one of the top 10 pitchers in the business.

Assuming Hamels can stay healthy and equally as productive in 2012 as he was last year, he will command a mega-size contract. CC Sabathia earned himself a seven-year, $161 million contract from the New York Yankees following the 2008 season, and he was a similar pitcher to Hamels.

Sabathia was 28 years old – just like Hamels – and a lefty. He had 100 career wins under his belt and a Cy Young award, but Hamels had thrown about 400 fewer innings, which should actually help his case: He has less mileage on him. Hamels is also 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, a historically safer build for a pitcher than the 6-foot-7, 290-pound frame that is the mammoth Sabathia.

Jered Weaver signed a $85 million contract extension earlier this year and he has shockingly similar numbers to Hamels.

But if Hamels hits the open market and has multiple teams bidding on him, he will easily top that figure. Hamels’ agent, John Boggs, already said Hamels won’t settle for Jered Weaver money.

Cliff Lee got $120 million from the Phillies for five years, and Hamels is younger, nearly as good, and probably safer financially. The Phillies have $40 million invested in Roy Halladay over the next two years, and another $20 million that could kick in for 2014 if Halladay’s option vests. Lee is owed an average of just over $24 million for each of the next four seasons with a $27.5 million vesting option for 2016. Ryan Howard is just starting his $125 million extension, and the Phillies just signed Jimmy Rollins and Jonathan Papelbon for close to $100 million total.

The Phillies may not be able to pay Hamels, especially since they will also still need to pay Shane Victorino (after 2012) and Hunter Pence (after 2013). Victorino will likely be looking for something in the range of $60 million and Pence could get close to $100 million himself. If Hamels gets $125 million or more, that’s close to $300 million the Phillies will have to pay for just three players in total contracts.

That’s an outrageous amount of money to pay. Chase Utley still gets $15 million this year and next, so if the Phillies pay Victorino and Hamels for 2013, the team conceivably could be spending close to $150 million of their payroll on nine players – Howard, Utley, Rollins, Victorino, Pence, Halladay, Lee, Hamels, and Papelbon.

This means Hamels could definitely walk, and if he does, you have to bet the New York Yankees will be right there with their wallet open. The Yankees have Sabathia locked up through the rest of his career, plus two young guns in Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova. Hamels would make them arguably the team to beat.

The Phillies historically have struggled to develop starting pitchers, and it would be a shame if the team let one go that finally panned out. When the team paid big money to Halladay, Lee, and Howard, GM Ruben Amaro, Jr., had to know Hamels would be in the mix for a nine-figure salary in the upcoming years.

Given the shocking high-profile moves the team has pulled off recently, it wouldn’t stun me to see a trade involving Victorino or possibly even Hamels. Time will only tell what move Amaro finally decides to make.

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