John Smallwood: Trade Hamels, then get him back as free agent

Posted: July 12, 2012

THIS IS ONE of the few player-personnel decisions that should be easy for the Phillies to make.

Hard-throwing Cole Hamels just tossed team president Dave Montgomery, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and anybody else involved in the process a softball to be knocked out of Citizens Bank Park.

If Hamels is to be believed, and frankly there is no reason not to take him at his word, then the Phillies' short- and long-term path for solving their Cole dilemma is clear.

First, trade Hamels, the most valuable commodity the Phils have in "reconfiguring" this flawed team for next season.

Then open the checkbook this winter and make Hamels the central free-agent signing of that reconfiguration.

On Monday at a media conference for the All-Star Game, Hamels not only said that his first option is to remain a Phillie, but in the event that the organization should deal with his pending free agency by trading him, he'd harbor no ill will and still give them right of first refusal on any contract offer he should get.

This could not be any clearer.

Unless Hamels is flat-out lying – and why would he be, considering a proclamation like that would make him less attractive to potential suitors – the 28-year-old lefthander has given the Phillies the go-ahead to double-down on him.

He's letting them retool with house money.

Basically, what Hamels is saying is, trade me to improve the team for the 2013 season and then bring me back so we can get on that World Series train together again.

It doesn't get any better than that if you are the Phillies.

The Orlando Magic wishes Dwight Howard would give it a fraction of that kind of consideration to avoid destroying the franchise.

Now, the Phillies have to forget about this "hometown discount" nonsense.

If the organization wanted Hamels at a bargain rate, it should have shown a little more faith and locked him up long-term last season when his stock wasn't sky high, as it is now.

Hamels' market value is established. It's going to be astronomical.

The Phillies need to pay it to keep an ace entering his prime, in whom they've already invested a lot of money, time and development.

Montgomery stated during spring training that the Phillies could afford to sign Hamels if they wanted to.

What's changed? Everybody knew what was going to happen in free agency if Hamels had another All-Star season.

If Montgomery says the Phillies have the cash, then standing on principle would be a stupid reason to let go of one of the most valuable possessions in sports – a legitimate top-of-the-rotation lefty. That's especially true since they've already broken longstanding policy by signing Cliff Lee (5 years plus a vesting option for 2016) and then Jonathan Papelbon (4 years plus a vesting option for 2016) to longer contracts than the maximum 3 years they previously had given pitchers.

Hamels, the 2008 World Series MVP, is younger and has done more for this franchise than both of those guys.

He has earned the same consideration.

Honestly, it's the wrong sport, but Hamels has lobbed an alley-oop pass for the Phillies to slam-dunk.

We know the ugly statistics.

The Phillies crawled into the All-Star break having lost 10 of 11 games and start the second half 14 games behind the Washington Nationals in the National League East and 10 games back in the wild-card race.

It's going to take an historic run – one that the Phillies have given no hint of being able to put together – just to sneak into the playoffs.

The general thought is that the Phillies have 16 games until the trade deadline to prove to Amaro that they are worth keeping together for the remainder of 2012.

The reality is that the evidence will be in much sooner than that.

The Phillies resume play Friday with a three-game series in Colorado and then have three games at Dodger Stadium.

If they don't go 5-1, even the faintest hope for making a sixth consecutive playoff appearance will be gone.

Let the reconfiguration commence.

The beauty of what Hamels said is that it allows Amaro to do exactly what he plans to do anyway.

Fans who think the Phillies need to clean house from top to bottom and start over are going to be disappointed because that is not going to happen.

It is impractical and probably impossible for Amaro to completely ditch this roster – even if it does appear to be trending downward.

Whether you agree or disagree with past decisions, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Roy Halladay, Jimmy Rollins, Lee and Papelbon are all here next season for big dollars.

The core, the most expensive players, will be given the opportunity to bounce back in 2013.

Certainly changes will be made, which is where trading Hamels comes into play.

Even if viewed solely as a rental, Hamels might be too good of a final piece to pass up for a number of teams that are looking at winning a World Series. A bidding war could commence.

At the minimum, trading Hamels should net the Phillies a quality third baseman and/or outfielder for 2013 plus some pitching help.

After the trade, you take Hamels at his word and expect Montgomery to ante up.

You use the right of first refusal Hamels has given you and meet his asking price — no dollar-pinching, no searching for a loyalty discount, just do it.

For a while, it didn't seem the Phillies knew what to do concerning Hamels. Now it couldn't be any easier.

On Monday, Hamels gave the Phillies a way to eat their cake now and then get it back again later.

Contact John Smallwood at smallwj@phillynews.com

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