Cole Hamels had the Philadelphia Phillies right where he wanted them. A 28-year old about to enter his prime, a clear fan favorite, a playoff hero and a very talented left-hander, he had the ideal resume to bring to the table, whether negotiations took place in Philadelphia or elsewhere.
The Phillies made it clear they were interested in retaining their homegrown star pitcher and reportedly approached him about a new deal during the 2011 season. The number that was being tossed around to keep Hamels in Philadelphia was “Jered Weaver money.” For those of you who don’t know, Weaver signed an $85 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim last summer. Weaver was believed to have taken a “hometown discount,” wanting to stay in his native state of California with the organization he played for in the minor leagues.
Other than Hamels’ left-handedness, the comparison was a pretty strong one. Hamels publicly expressed his desire to stay in Philadelphia and had similar career numbers when put up against Weaver. Through 2011 he had a career .578 winning percentage and 3.38 ERA. Weaver, playing in the American League, had a career .621 winning percentage and 3.55 ERA.
It was even more reasonable when you put into consideration that Justin Verlander, the 2011 American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner, who is also arguably the best pitcher in the game, received a contract worth even less than Weaver’s. Again, a key difference is that Hamels is a left-hander, which does represent additional value, as well as his seven career playoff wins. Still, five years and $85 million seemed like a good ballpark number.
Everything changed when Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants somehow ended up with a $127 million deal despite not even having a career record above .500. Not only did it set a new level for pitchers’ salaries, but it also took one more pitcher off the list of potential free agents. Because Hamels would have been a free agent if he hadn’t signed a contract extension with the Phillies, Cain’s signing created more of a demand for him.
The Phillies demanded more from Hamels throughout the season as the team showed signs of its aging roster, highlighted by poor starts and injuries to pitchers Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Suddenly, Hamels was an absolute keeper, even more so than ever before.
Hamels had yet another item working for him when the Phillies were up against the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline. They would need to explore trading Hamels if they could not sign him to maximize their return value.
Just like his timely 2008 playoff performance, which earned him the title of World Series MVP, Hamels had a timely leveraged resume to present to Phillies management. The undeniable demand for his talent earned him a six-year, $144 million deal from the Phillies.
Hamels inspired a Phillies mini roster sale in two different ways. The first was the tremendous financial commitment from the Phillies, which forced them to cut costs in other areas of the roster to stay under the 2012 luxury tax threshold and avoid penalties. The second way, ironically, was with his poor performance on the mound, walking seven Atlanta Braves and allowing six runs, to kick off what would be the sixth time the Phillies were swept this season.
The combination of the two forced the Phillies to surrender their hopes for a postseason appearance in 2012 and look to the future.
The timing of his poor start may work out well for the Phillies because it allowed management to focus on selling instead of buying.
There did not appear to be enough money to give Shane Victorino, a soon-to-be free agent, the type of contract he would demand. He needed to be moved. The Phillies actually made out very well trading an underperforming rental player for an immediately useful bullpen piece in Josh Lindblom and a prospect in Ethan Martin, a former first-round pick who has a chance to be a future contributor.
Hunter Pence, who was also underperforming, was in line for what looked to be a 2013 salary in the neighborhood of nearly $15 million. That’s not an attractive, nor in all likelihood, an affordable salary given Hamels’ new pact. So Pence needed to go, too. The Phillies instead acquired catching prospect Tommy Joseph, who will likely be a big-league player in 2014.
And just like that, the longest-tenured Phillies pitcher shifted everyone’s attention to the future Phillies in a matter of 48 hours — from the time he signed it to the time he was charged with Friday night’s loss. Even so, he also ensured himself a red-and-white pinstriped jersey for additional years to come. Both Hamels and the Phillies management should walk away satisfied with the timing of it all as they look toward a more successful 2013 season.