Cole Hamels: Will This Be His Final Year With the Philadelphia Phillies?

When the Philadelphia Phillies inked Cole Hamels to a one-year, $15 million deal in the offseason, thus avoiding arbitration, it means the club will likely allow their two-time All-Star to hit free agency next winter.

Hamels is still just 28 years old, he’s never suffered a serious injury, and he’s a left-handed pitcher. A month ago, I wrote that Cole Hamels could get one of the largest contracts in baseball history. Hamels still may not have reached his full potential as a pitcher; he has a devastating fastball-changeup combination and he is on a team with two of the greatest pitchers in the game.

Hamels was 14-9 with a 2.79 ERA in 31 starts last season, posting a 4.41 strikeout to walk ratio that was the best of his six-year major league career. Assuming he doesn’t suffer a serious injury or see an improbable decline in his statistics in 2012, Hamels will get paid big-time in the winter.

GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. loves good pitching and he loves issuing big contracts, and he didn’t hesitate to open his wallet for Cliff Lee at $120 million, Ryan Howard at $125 million, or Jonathan Papelbon for over $50 million. It is shocking to think he could allow his best young pitcher to walk via free agency, but if he doesn’t give Hamels a long-term deal before the winter, the New York Yankees absolutely have to be considered the top suitor for Hamels.

If the Yankees offered 32-year old Cliff Lee $147 million back in the winter of 2010, what will they offer Hamels? CC Sabathia is signed for an eight-year, $182 million deal with a $25 million vesting option for the 2017 season. Hamels is four years younger. It’s not unreasonable to think he could get $200 million. The Yankees want to get the Phillies back for missing out on Lee after ’10, and this is a team that doesn’t really have a spending limit.

It would be devastating as a Phillies fan to see a homegrown pitcher like Hamels who was a World Series MVP in 2008 to depart via free agency, but it may come to that. The Phillies will have major decisions regarding both Shane Victorino and Hamels after 2012 plus Hunter Pence after 2013. Victorino will probably warrant a $50-60 million deal if he stays and Pence would be in the market for upwards of $100 million. That’s a lot for the Phillies to spend, especially with what they are already paying to players like Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Papelbon.

It may not quite be time to panic but as the Phillies get closer and closer to the end of the season and Hamels still hasn’t been signed long-term, fans will begin to worry. And rightfully so.

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