Ryan Madson's injury could serve as warning for Cole Hamels' future

Posted: March 24, 2012

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Cole Hamels' eyes widened and his forehead crinkled when he heard the news.

"No," he said, drawing out the syllable in disbelief.

Yes, he was told. Ryan Madson, a teammate of his for the previous six seasons, was scheduled to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery after tearing a ligament less than two months into his tenure with the Reds.

The news is relevant to Hamels not just because of the personal relationship and professional kinship that he and Madson share, but also because both pitchers are less than eight months away from the potential riches of free agency. Madson signed a one-year, $8.5 million deal with the Reds after a multi-year extension with the Phillies failed to materialize. Now, he is a vivid reminder of the risks a player takes when he sacrifices security in favor of a bigger pay-day down the road.

Hamels could very well find himself in a similar position this year. While both he and the Phillies profess optimism about the prospects of reaching an agreement on a long-term contract extension, the 28-year-old lefty is now just 11 days away from entering the season without any guaranteed money beyond the $15 million he is due to earn in 2012.

Hamels' agent, San Diego-based John Boggs, visited Clearwater earlier this month to talk business with Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. But if the two sides have made any progress, they have done an admirable job of keeping it under wraps.

You might expect that the prospect of seeing a pay day evaporate would intimidate a player, particularly one who could easily command a deal in excess of $100 million on the open market. But if there is one thing that we have learned about Hamels, who has already won a World Series MVP and is coming off a season in which he went 14-9 with a 2.79 ERA and 194 strikeouts in 216 innings, it is that he does not scare easily.

"I've had some serious injuries with broken arms and herniated discs," he said Saturday after throwing four innings against the Red Sox in a 10-5 win at JetBlue Park. "So what? You lose a year, but you kind of gain a year because you are not putting the wear-and-tear. Hopefully Madson can look at it like that. If you've ever overcome an injury, then you can overcome anything."

As he heads into his seventh season in the majors, an injury is probably the only thing that can prevent Hamels from becoming one of the highest-paid pitchers in the sport. Since breaking into the majors in 2006, he ranks eighth among major-league starters in strikeouts (1091), 16th in innings (1,1611/3), and 15th in ERA (3.39, minimum of 700 innings). Over the last two years, he has propelled himself into the realm of the elite, posting a 2.92 ERA and averaging 212 innings, 202 strikeouts, and just 52 walks while starting a total of 64 games.

This year, Hamels will start the Phillies' home opener for the first time in his career. Pitching coach Rich Dubee made the decision Friday after opting to pitch second-year righthander Vance Worley in the team's season-opening series in Pittsburgh.

"It's a great honor. Just to be able to be out there in front of your home fans," he said. "It's the start of their season, because it's at home. I've been able to be here for quite a few years and be able to see the sort of excitement that everybody has having that first game in Philadelphia, and now to be able to pitch it, it's kind of like leading off a postseason series."

In a perfect world, Hamels will have a healthy new contract by the time October rolls around. Then again, Madson's injury is another reminder that an athlete's earning potential can change in an instant.

"I feel sorry for him," manager Charlie Manuel said. "I never want to see anybody get Tommy John. Especially Madson."

Contact David Murphy at murphyd@phillynews.com.


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