Inside the Phillies: Should Phillies market Hamels?

Cole Hamels is in his prime and could command a lot in a trade. On the other hand, he could stay in Philadelphia and contribute for a few more years, once the team is again a contender. CHARLES FOX / Staff
Cole Hamels is in his prime and could command a lot in a trade. On the other hand, he could stay in Philadelphia and contribute for a few more years, once the team is again a contender. CHARLES FOX / Staff
Posted: July 14, 2014

It is 2018, the final year of Cole Hamels' seven-year contract signed during a long summer when the lefthander proclaimed his belief in the Phillies' desire to win, and a remarkable thing has happened. The Phillies - bottom-dwellers for the previous five years - have pushed into a pennant race.

Hamels is 34 now; the wavy, black surfer's hair from 2006 is thinner and splotched with gray. He is the longest-tenured athlete in Philadelphia, and still a productive pitcher as the No. 3 starter in the rotation. His teammates walk with Hamels from the home clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park to the dugout and they pass the massive panorama snapped moments after Game 5 of the 2008 World Series, the game Hamels pitched to clinch immortality.

The younger players ask Hamels what that night was like, and he laughs. This is his legacy; Hamels is the link between two successful eras in Phillies baseball. Sure, there were difficult times, like in 2016, when he made just six starts because of persistent shoulder pain. But his devastating change-up endured, and that familiar feeling has returned to South Philadelphia. And, no, 2018 did not deliver a championship, but the future is brighter than it has been for years.

Was it worth it? Hamels evades those questions because he remembers what it was like to watch many of his teammates depart the disaster that was 2014. Hamels was 30 then, and he could have forced the issue by requesting a trade to a contender such as Los Angeles or St. Louis. But Hamels stayed. The Phillies unloaded other assets, but not Hamels, because it was not impossible to foresee a scenario in which they were ready to contend again with Hamels still in the rotation.

This fantasy could be too romantic. The Phillies, over the next several weeks, must make immense decisions about the future of the franchise. They committed seven years to Hamels, a pitcher still in his prime, and one throwing about as well as ever this season.

There are reasons to explore the trade market for Hamels. He can fetch the best package of prospects because of his age and level of talent. There are - maybe - two pitchers deserving of Hamels money on the market this winter: Jon Lester and Max Scherzer. Hamels' contract is four years, $96 million after 2014. Both Lester and Scherzer will seek longer terms than that, which is another incentive for a good team to pursue Hamels with prospects and money.

The Phillies crave an influx of young talent. Not major-league-ready talent, but talent that will be seasoned enough to contribute around 2018, when the Phillies can again consider contention. The minor-league system is devoid of real pieces beyond the obvious J.P. Crawford, Maikel Franco, and Aaron Nola.

The problem is, between now and then, there is baseball to play. Trade Hamels now, and the 2015 rotation looks like this: Cliff Lee and David Buchanan. Even that is improbable, given the strong chances Lee is not on the Phillies' opening-day roster in 2015.

Kyle Kendrick and Roberto Hernandez are free agents. A.J. Burnett, who will need hernia surgery at the conclusion of this season, could retire or pitch for a contender. Nola, the seventh overall pick in this year's draft, could crack the majors by next August. Jesse Biddle, projected to compete for a rotation job in spring 2015, may not pitch again this season while the Phillies attempt to clear his mind. Jonathan Pettibone and Adam Morgan are both shelved by shoulder surgeries.

The Phillies will reassess Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez this fall. They could convert him into a starter. But Gonzalez has thrived in a relief role. There are questions about whether his shoulder can sustain a starter's workload. The ERA leader among Phillies minor-league starters (minimum 10 starts) is 30-year-old Greg Smith at 3.81.

The free-agent market this winter offers few Band-Aids for the middle of the rotation. Lester, Scherzer, and James Shields could earn top-dollar deals. The next tier is Ervin Santana, Justin Masterson, Jason Hammel, Brandon McCarthy, and Jorge De La Rosa.

"Pitching is the name of the game," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "Pitching and defense. You can't have enough pitching, depth in pitching. Not only at the major-league level, but the minor-league level, having backups. You can't have enough. That's something that we need to beef up on here, pitching throughout the organization."

That is one vote for retaining Hamels, who could lead a depleted rotation for the next few seasons.


mgelb@phillynews.com

@magelb

www.inquirer.com/

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