Inside the Phillies: With Hamels aboard, how will the Phillies build around their core?

Posted: July 26, 2012

With his boss David Montgomery seated next to Cole Hamels' wife, Heidi, and son, Caleb, inside the crowded media room at Citizens Bank Park, Ruben Amaro Jr. offered the reminder he always feels obliged to share whenever the Phillies have unloaded a truck full of money on one of their players.

"We don't have an open wallet," the general manager said. "That is not how it works. That's not how any business would work."

No, they do not have an open wallet. Wallets have not been equipped to handle the Phillies' enormous pile of money for quite some time.

Consider this: The six-year, $144 million deal that came together for Hamels and his agent John Boggs Tuesday night was worth more money than the Phillies' entire payroll for every season before 2011.

Amaro's point was that even the secret vault at One Citizens Bank Way has limits.

Nobody is quite sure what those limits are, but it appears as if we are about to find out.

"It's my job to try to put the pieces together in the right fashion," Amaro said after Hamels signed his six-year contract extension, enabling the pitcher and his family to truly celebrate the Phillies' Christmas in July promotion at the ballpark.

Anybody else find $144 million under their tree?

"We have a lot of decisions to make, but the one thing that is clear is that we're committed to winning," Amaro said.

That point has been loud and clear for years. It's one of the things that sold Hamels on re-signing with the Phillies rather than seeing if he could get the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers to pad his personal bank account even more.

"It's very hard to leave a place you've had so many great memories and have been able to enjoy so much good and you know there's so much more good to come," Hamels said. "You don't want to miss it. The organization is always going to do a good job of going out to win."

It will be fascinating to see exactly what Amaro, Montgomery, and the Phillies are willing to do to win this season and beyond, especially considering the 2012 team's rising mojo, which was driven up another notch with Wednesday's 7-6, 10-inning win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

If the Phillies decide to stand pat and take a highly unlikely shot at getting into the playoffs this season, it would probably mean keeping the team intact. It also likely would mean exceeding the $178 million payroll threshold that comes with a 17.5-percent tax hit.

The other option is to unload veterans like Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton in an effort to avoid paying the luxury tax this year. That would prove Amaro's point that it's not an open vault, and it would also clear the way for a 2013 payroll that is sure to exceed the $178 million threshold. The Phillies already have more than $135 million committed to 10 players, and that's before adding in Hunter Pence's projected salary arbitration figure of roughly $15 million.

It's likely they also want to get into the free-agent game by going after Atlanta's Michael Bourn and some relief arms that are more competent than Chad Qualls'. If the Phillies do not avoid the payroll threshold hit this year, they will have to pay a 30-percent tax next season, and that's probably best avoided in the minds of Montgomery and his partners.

So does Victorino become the sacrificial salary? His name floated in some trade rumors involving the Cincinnati Reds during Wednesday's series finale with the Brewers. One rumor had him going to the Reds for reliever Logan Ondrusek, a deal that would help the beleaguered bullpen some and the inflated payroll even more.

Victorino admitted that would be a heart-wrenching scenario.

"Of course it would hurt," he said. "Why wouldn't it? I've made myself the baseball player that I am in this city, but, hey, whatever. I can't control what happens. Mostly I'm focused on right now. I've got a Phillies uniform on, and that's my focus."

If we learned anything about this season, it's that nobody really cares about a team's commitment to winning if the team does not actually win.

Montgomery and the ownership partners have spent more money than any team in the National League to put a 45-54, underachieving product on the field, and none of the paying customers come through the turnstiles and say, "Thanks for the effort."

All Amaro and Montgomery really can promise, however, is a continued effort to win.

Hamels got that promise and $144 million. Now it's up to Amaro and Montgomery to figure out the best way to make their payroll work this year and next.

Amaro said he discussed those issues with Hamels before the pitcher signed.

"We did discuss the magnitude of the contract and if it would hinder us from doing some other things," the general manager said. "In some cases it might, but, as I told him, our goal remains the same. We want to put the pieces of the puzzle around these core players to make sure we're a championship-caliber club."

The Phillies' belief remains that the foundation of three aces (Hamels, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee) along with a healthy Chase Utley and Ryan Howard is capable of winning a World Series in the near future. Other pieces will be needed to complement them, and now we will watch to see how the vault with all the money opens and closes in order to get them.


Contact Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @brookob.

 

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