This is the first in a three-part series in which I address the Cole Hamels situation for the Philadelphia Phillies. First, I will list the positives of re-signing Hamels to a contract extension. Then I will go over the negatives, and finally I will write a third article in which I decide which of the two options the Phillies should pursue.
The Cole Hamels deal is the major storyline for the Philadelphia Phillies this season. It’s been more or less established that this team will not reach the postseason, ending a franchise-record five consecutive division titles. In fact, with the Phillies a dozen games under the .500 mark, it might be a stretch to even expect a winning record.
That’s why the Hamels deal is basically the only thing the Phillies should be concerned about right now.
When you look at it from a public relations standpoint, the Phillies absolutely cannot let Cole Hamels leave, whether it’s through a trade before the July 31st trade deadline or whether it’s through free agency after the season.
Hamels is a left handed pitcher, and as we all know, lefty pitchers are more valuable than right handed pitchers. He’s also only 28 years old. That puts him right in the prime of his career, with hopefully eight to ten good years remaining before he retires. With any luck, the Hall of Fame will come calling several years after he hangs up his spikes.
Look at Hamels’ career. He’s had just one bad season, and that was 2009, when his numbers were actually about average for a starting pitcher in the major leagues.
But he’s been remarkably consistent. He’s been on the disabled list just three times, all 15-day stints, in 2006, 2007, and 2011, and all were relatively minor. So you could call him injury-free for his whole career.
He’s been to the All-Star Game three times, including two in a row, and I would predict that he makes it more times than he misses it over the next eight years.
He’s a strikeout pitcher, averaging almost one per inning for his career, with low walk totals. In fact, he has a strikeout-to-walk ratio that ranks seventh in the history of baseball.
Oh, and there’s the 2008 NLCS Most Valuable Player award and World Series Most Valuable Player award. During that postseason, he posted a 4-0 record with a 1.80 earned run average in five starts. That postseason wasn’t a fluke either. In 13 career postseason starts, he’s 7-4 with a 3.09 earned run average.
Hamels will become even more valuable over the next few seasons. Now, right NOW, he’s just the third best pitcher on his team. You could make the case that he’s the second best, but I still think Cliff Lee is better, even though Lee is having a down season. Lee’s 2008 and 2011 seasons were way better than anything Hamels has ever done, and Hamels was never as dominant as Lee was during the 2010 postseason, even with his struggles in the World Series against the San Francisco Giants.
Sure, Hamels is flying under the radar right now because he’s only the third best starting pitcher on the team. But just wait.
In 2014, when Roy Halladay is 37 years old and Cliff Lee is 35 years old, Hamels will likely be the most valuable and best pitcher in the starting rotation. He’ll be just 31 then and with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins aging and past their prime, Hamels will be the face of the franchise.
Hamels is the top homegrown pitching prospect the Phillies have had since the Robin Roberts era, which was more than half a century ago.
If the Phillies, specifically general manager Ruben Amaro Jr, allow him to leave, the public outrage will be unbelievable. It would be the baseball version of the Philadelphia Eagles letting defensive end Reggie White walk after the 1992 season, or letting safety Brian Dawkins walk after the 2008 season.
That could swing the city into an anti-Phillies state almost immediately. It’s been said that a team should be given a five-year grace period after winning a World Series, which means that the Phillies have until the start of the 2014 season.
Well, this is Philadelphia. There are no grace periods. With winning, the expectations for this team and from these fans have just increased. It wasn’t enough when the team posted the best record in baseball and then lost to the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS, and it wasn’t enough when the team posted the best record in baseball and then lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS.
Nope. It’s about winning championships, and a player like Cole Hamels has that Philadelphia attitude needed to do so (just think about him drilling Bryce Harper in the back). He’s a winner, he’s a fighter, and he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball.
And he’s only getting better with each passing year.
Let’s look at some of the contracts that the Phillies have issued over the past few seasons.
Five years and $125 million for slugger Ryan Howard. They’re probably going to regret that. They probably do already.
Three years and $35 million for shortstop, team leader, and former National League Most Valuable Player Jimmy Rollins. They’re probably going top regret that. They probably do already.
Five years and $120 million for former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee? That’s a 50-50 on whether they regret it, and as of now, I definitely don’t think they do.
Four years and $50 million for closer Jonathan Papelbon. They’re probably going to regret that. Maybe they do already.
But six or seven years and $150 and $175 million for ace Cole Hamels? (And yes, he is an ace, even if he’s only the team’s third best starting pitcher.) That’s a contract that the team likely wouldn’t regret. And if the inevitable happens and Hamels regresses to his 2009 form or suffers a couple of big injuries, well, that sucks. But what if he continues to get better with age, like Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee did?
We could be looking at a pitcher who could retire in 10 years with 280 career victories, 3000 strikeouts, two Cy Young awards, and a couple of championships. That would make him a first-ballot Hall of Famer and would put him in the talk with Pete Alexander, Robin Roberts, and Steve Carlton as the greatest pitcher in franchise history.
When you look at it that way, the Phillies absolutely can’t let Cole Hamels leave.
They just can’t.
This article was written by Bryn Swartz, the top writer for Eagles Central and a featured NFL columnist on Rant Sports. Bryn has written more than 1000 articles in less than two years as a member of Rant Sports. His blog, Eagles Central, was named the 2010 Ballhyped Sports Blog of the Year. To read a portfolio of Bryn’s best work, click here.