Rich Hofmann: Hamels' deal is good enough for now

Posted: January 18, 2012

THE CONTRACTUAL dance between Cole Hamels and the Phillies is ongoing. The time for panic is not yet near, even if you can kind of see it in the distance. To fret now would be to waste valuable nervous energy that could be better put to use worrying about who is going to call the defense next year for the Eagles (and the offense, for that matter, if Marty Mornhinweg leaves).

Even if the Phillies would not necessarily agree with this, it will be officially OK to commence worrying if Hamels is not signed to a long-term contract by the end of spring training. Between then and now, though, came the news yesterday that Hamels had signed a 1-year deal for 2012, for the fabulous sum of $15 million.

To the accompaniment of yawns. Or, as assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said, "It's just part of the process."

There was a time when days like this were part of a never-ending referendum on whether the Phillies were willing to spend the money it took to be a winner. It seems so long ago. Back when they could not even make a logical baseball move that everybody agreed with and not have it spun around the question of dollars and sense. Such was the financial scrutiny they received from the paying customers after years of declining spending.

All of which has nothing to do with the here and now, where you fill the ballpark, the club launders the money and the players live happily ever after. The ever-growing payroll is barely a conversation anymore in this town. In less than a decade, the general assumption about Phillies ownership has completely flipped. Then, you assumed they wouldn't pay the money. Now, you assume they will.

Why the long-term deal isn't done now is a fair-enough question, given that the market for young lefthanded stud pitchers is not likely to change between now and April. It also is a fair-enough question, given that the Phillies felt no concern at all about signing Ryan Howard to his megadeal and doing it early and setting the market themselves in the process.

But if you have watched this stuff long enough, from any distance, you know that every negotiation is different - and, again, that there still is time.

"We've tried to stay continually optimistic," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "We've kept our minds open. We just felt like this was the thing to do for now. It doesn't preclude us from doing another deal at any time.

"This is just a good spot for us to be in now. We have cost certainty and Cole is being paid equitably this year. We can negotiate all year if we have to. We can negotiate until 5 days after the World Series."

That is the part that begins to strain credibility. Because while Hamels will not become a free agent until after the season, the reality is that if he is pitching in his customary, excellent fashion, everybody will be able to see the sharks on the horizon a long time before November - especially Hamels and his representatives.

At a certain point, the temptation to test free agency will grow. Only Hamels knows when that will be - or maybe even he doesn't know. The reason for the Phillies to do the deal in spring training is to avoid that temptation for Hamels - and also to offer him the very real benefit of a guaranteed, long-term deal before he has thrown a pitch in anger in 2012 and risked injury.

With every start he makes next season, that benefit decreases because the injury risk decreases. After 10 starts, about 30 percent of the risk is gone. By the end of June, 50 percent of the risk is gone. All the while, the shark fins - one of which has a classic "NY" stenciled on it - get easier and easier to discern.

Which means spring training is when this makes sense, for all of those reasons and also just to eliminate the distraction. But Amaro said the start of the regular season was not any kind of deadline in his mind, and that he would have no problem negotiating during the season.

"It doesn't matter to me," Amaro said. "No parameters have been established."

It is what you say if it is the middle of January and you are in the general manager's position. It is a negotiation, after all. In the end, though, the calendar will tell the truth.


Send email to

hofmanr@phillynews.com,

or read his blog, The Idle Rich, at

www.philly.com/TheIdleRich.

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