In the fifth inning of the Phillies home opener on Monday, Miami Marlins second baseman Omar Infante hit a fly ball to left field off of Phils starter Cole Hamels. The unpredictable winds at Citizens Bank Park that day tried mightily to knock that ball out of the sky, but to no avail. As it cleared the fence into the left field seats, Phillies fans could almost feel Hamels mentally house-hunting in the Hollywood Hills.
Hamels’s contract expires at the end of this season. Up until very recently, conventional wisdom suggested that Ruben Amaro Jr. and company would figure out a way to keep the former World Series MVP in red pinstripes. But, as the most recent offseason progressed and spring training turned into the regular season, it felt as though the jelly beans were piling up on the “Get the Hell Out of Dodge” side of the scale.
Since 2006, Cole Hamels has been a wonderful asset to the Phillies starting rotation. He’s won 74 games and notched a 3.4 ERA in 181 regular season starts. And he gets better in the playoffs. He’s got a .636 win percentage in post-season games and went 4-0 on the way to the team’s 2008 World Series victory. All of that might walk out the door at the end of 2012 after a slew of developments that will make it harder for Philly to retain him.
A few weeks ago, Magic Johnson and a group of investors bid $2 billion to purchase the Dodgers. That figure is approximately $600 million more than the team was valued in Forbes a few weeks earlier. New ownership will likely be looking to make a flashy free-agent acquisition next offseason in an attempt to re-energize a tepid fan base before auctioning of the team’s television rights to the highest bidder. Couple that with the plethora of injuries plaguing the Phillies fading stars, and suddenly the West Coast seems like a more than viable option.
Plus, California is more than just a possible destination for Hamels—it was his home. Hamels grew up in San Diego, just a few hours south on the 405. And as for the wind and that Omar Infante home run on Monday? It was 78 degrees and calm in Los Angeles on Monday afternoon, and that fly ball would have been just a deep out in Dodger Stadium (the power alley fence is 385 feet from the plate). You can see why his jelly beans are piling up on one side of the scale.
Just before opening day, the San Francisco Giants extended Matt Cain’s tenure with a five-year, $112.5 million extension. Cain—a 27-year-old pitcher with similar stats to Hamels—has likely set the starting point for the Hamels negotiations. Hamels has indicated that it’s up to Ruben Amaro Jr. to get him signed. He and his agent have said they’ve made their checklist very clear. The issue will come down to contract length. Hamels is 28 and is supposedly seeking a long-term deal—something like six years, $137 million from the Phils during in-season negotiations—but some agents think he could fetch between $150 million and $175 million in free agency. For the Phillies, though, committing that type of money to a pitcher who will be 34 when the deal expires might be a step backward as the franchise fights to replace waning power and a depleted farm system.
Hamels is only one start into the 2012 campaign and—despite all of the “the end is nigh” talk—the Phils are World Series hopefuls. Many Phillies fans are eager to have the team lock him up early. Watching his starts will get more difficult with each would-be pop-up-turned-home run, and every Hamels start in which the Phils can’t score more than a run, as Phillies faithful feel that they’re inching that much closer to saying goodbye to Hollywood Hamels.