Cole Hamels Must Go

But let's hope Ruben Amaro won't screw up the trade agreement.

At times, Cole Hamels may look, sound and act like someone from another planet–or the West Coast–but he is no dummy. He understands what’s going on in Philadelphia, and it’s becoming clear he doesn’t want to be a part of it.

As the Phillies slide precipitously into irrelevancy with each desultory performance, the franchise becomes less and less attractive to a young, marketable commodity like Hamels. Forget the fact that he went 2-3 with a 4.20 ERA in June and made it past the seventh inning but once in six starts. Hamels is headed for free agency after this season in great shape to get a seven-year deal worth about $175 million, and the Phillies don’t want to pay that. Or so it appears after Sunday’s reports that they are shopping the lefthander. Even if they did want to cough up that kind of cash, it’s debatable whether Hamels would want to stick around an aging team that has no obvious reinforcements on the way.

Texas has been scouting Hamels, trying to decide if he is worth a package of prospects that includes standout (.303/.410/.599, 21 HR, 60 RBI) AA third baseman Mike Olt. There will be other teams interested, too. And if the Phillies trade Hamels, they will be admitting that not only is 2012 a lost cause, but also that the future is so hamstrung by big-money long-term deals that the only sensible thing to do is rebuild. That won’t help the sellout streak at CBP too much, although pumping up attendance figures with standing-room-only tickets is a little bogus to begin with.

Nope, fans had better hunker down for some old-fashioned Phillies baseball. I’m not quite talking about 1971 or ’96, but the wave of success that captivated the city from 2007-11 appears to be washing quietly ashore, and there don’t seem to be any big breakers on the horizon. Although injuries have played a role in the first half of this season’s follies, poor preparation and a lack of foresight have been more responsible. Neglecting the bullpen, refusing to address left field and third base and overlooking sensible medical evidence that creaky knees don’t get better have been even bigger culprits than poor health in this season’s disaster. It is also clear that the players have largely tuned out manager Charlie Manuel, who was quite revealing when he said after Sunday’s loss in Miami that “I’ve talked enough to our guys. I don’t know how much more I can say.” While Manuel’s laissez-faire management style hasn’t helped things this year, it’s clear the team lacks leadership, and for the first time in several seasons, heart.

Against that backdrop, it makes sense to trade Hamels. For a while there, some Phillies fans were advocating re-signing Hamels and dealing Cliff Lee. But that was when it was possible to imagine another team’s considering taking on a top-shelf starter who is owed $75 million over the next three seasons (and perhaps $27.5 mil in the fourth) and not one who has two fewer wins in the first half of the season than does Kyle “5.35 ERA” Kendrick.

Nope, it’s Hamels who must go, especially if the Phils aren’t interested in giving the 28-year old six or seven years on his next deal. Even though Hamels can walk away after this season from any team that acquires him, he could make a huge difference for a contender down the stretch and in the post-season. (Remember 2008?)

The big question is whether GM Ruben Amaro, who proved so adept at landing players like Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence for key members of the Phils’ organization, can pull off a deal that provides a few not-so-distant future pieces of a winner. That’s something he has yet to do and is reason for serious concern. It’s one thing to fixate on another team’s star–particularly if Ed Wade is the trading partner–and figure out a way to land him and quite another to have the creativity, scouting strength and poker-table guile to raid another team’s personnel for real value.

Those expecting great things need only look back to the package Amaro negotiated when he shipped Lee to Seattle back in ’09. Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and Juan Ramirez remain in the minor leagues, and if they ever do make it to the bigs, none is forecast to be a major contributor. It is against that backdrop that Amaro will attempt to deal Hamels, and it could get ugly.

That would be the ultimate slap for fans. It will be bad enough to say good-bye to Hamels, who despite his at-times wacky behavior has been a highly valued member of the team and of the community. But getting fleeced in the deal, as the Phils were when they dealt Lee, would be too much to take. On a team with myriad proven needs, this deal has to be a home run that delivers at least two major future contributors and another couple players who will play solid big-league baseball.

The sad truth is that the curtain is falling on this iteration of the Phillies’ franchise. By this time next year, Hamels, Placido Polanco and Shane Victorino could all be gone. Chase Utley leaves after 2013. So could Roy Halladay and Hunter Pence. The Phillies have big needs and must make the most of the Hamels deal, if it happens.

It’s up to Amaro. I wish I could say I was optimistic.


  • The CNN reports that Joe Paterno was the engine behind Penn State’s decision to deal leniently with Jerry Sandusky confirm the suspicions that were raised the minute the scandal broke. At least four other boys were molested by Sandusky after Penn State decided against alerting the proper authorities, and the school officials’ inaction is unforgivable and the worst kind of institutional ass-covering. No one will know whether Paterno was trying to protect a friend or his program and legacy, and it doesn’t matter. He is culpable, and so is Penn State. Shame on them.
  • So we have a “playoff” in college football, do we? All is fine with the world, unless of course, you happen to be affiliated with one of the many conferences–including, ultimately, the Big East–that won’t have any chance of qualifying for the four-team affair. This is about the big schools’ keeping their money away from the NC2A, and I can’t say I blame them. But let’s not go overboard praising the architects of the plan. Just because this is better than the asinine BCS doesn’t mean it’s close to perfect.
  • Sixers owner Joshua Harris wasn’t too happy early Friday morning when I told him my grade for the teams draft–his first at the helm—was “a solid B/B+.” After I explained my reasoning–the Sixers picked up a couple of pieces who will contribute but no stars, Harris walked away and then said, “I only got A’s in college.” The grade was not intended as a slam at the Sixers, who did about as well as they could from the 15 spot in a draft. But Maurice Harkless and Arnett Moultrie are not future stars and may not even be career starters. If the Sixers are to become contenders, they need more talent, not just pieces. And with free agency and the trade market open, they have the opportunity to get that.