Up to this point, Cole Hamels and the Philadelphia Phillies have written the type of story that every team dreams about when drafting and developing young arms.
A young left-hander, Hamels was selected with the 17th pick of the 2002 draft. He came up as a highly touted prospect in 2006, matured into an ace for the 2008 World Series title team and continued growing in 2010 and 2011 by posting a stellar seasons that would have received a lot more accolades if it weren't for the two fellow All-Stars pitching in front of him.
If it were any other pitcher on any other big market team, the chances are good that Hamels would already be set for the next five or six years with a Jered Weaver-type contract nearing $90 million or more. But as Hamels and the Phillies prepare to enter the 2012 season, he'll be pitching on a one-year, $15 million contract that they just hammered out to avoid his final year of arbitration. He'll become a free agent after this year and a big coming-out party as the premier pitcher of the 2013 market looks likely.
Over on SB Nation on Thursday morning, Grant Brisbee considers everything I mentioned above, takes a look at some of the other wild big-money decisions that GM Ruben Amaro has handed out over the past few years and comes to the conclusion that budgeting constraints can't really be the source of the current business arrangement with Hamels.
Every move, every roster decision over the past three years has to have been with the understanding that the move wouldn't affect plans to re-sign Hamels. And the only thing that can prevent Hamels from returning is Hamels not wanting to return. Maybe after a World Series win and a couple of pennants, Hamels feels like Captain Bern Hembrook did about the moon. [...]
Hamels wanting change for the sake of change is the only thing standing between him and the Phillies. Because they can't seriously stop handing out the long-term deals the second Hamels approaches free agency. I mean, they just can't. Right?
With Roy Halladay signed for big money through 2014 and Cliff Lee onboard through 2016, perhaps Amaro and the Phillies really believe their future doesn't need Hamels, which is why they've handed out ridiculous paper to Ryan Howard, Jonathan Papelbon and Jimmy Rollins, but not Hamels, without much concern.
Still, no matter how great those two rotation cornerstones may be — and how heart-stopping having three $20 million-plus pitchers on your payroll might be to your bean counters — it runs against current baseball wisdom to wave goodbye to the best arm to come through your system in a long, long time.
And so it stands to reason that maybe Hamels and the Phillies know that this is really the last dance before Hamels seeks a nine-figure contract next offseason. And maybe they've known he's wanted to head out west to his native soil for a few seasons now, which is why they brought back Lee from free agency last offseason and committed $60 million to a closer when it wasn't really necessary.
Hamels, after all, knows he can possibly get $20 million a season from a Los Angeles Dodgers team with a new owner in the area where he grew up. He may have enjoyed his time in Philly, but when it's time for a change, it's time for a change. While his decision to follow his heart back home doesn't follow the storybook script that the Phillies were writing, it sure looks like both sides know that the story is going to take an inevitable turn toward Hamels' version of a fairy tale.