I'd love to be a fly on the wall for some of those front office meetings, listening to some of the conversations, ideas, and proposals exchanged among the experts, because without a doubt, only the most sensible of those conversations make it into the news.
The Philadelphia Phillies are having an abnormally strange off-season this winter. Jim Thome is back in town. Jonathan Papelbon is the new closer. Dontrelle Willis is a reliever, and Ryan Madson is a member of the Cincinnati Reds.
As strange as that may seem to some, here's a bold statement for you: The Phillies are about to make their biggest mistake this winter by doing something that most general managers would be praised for in certain situations: Playing it safe.
In this piece from Comcast SportsNet's Jim Salisbury, with quotes from Phillies' assistant general manager Scott Proefrock, it is revealed that the Phillies plan to offer left handed starter Cole Hamels a one-year deal this winter to avoid arbitration. From my perspective, the Phillies can take three, legitimate directions for Hamels, but the kicker is this:
A one-year deal in any way, shape, or form is the worst one.
Hamels is under team control for the 2012 season one way or another. If he and the Phillies are unable to reach an agreement, both parties will go to arbitration and settle on a salary for the upcoming year. In a nutshell, this would be playing it safe for the Phillies.
Agreeing to a one-year deal is nearly a formality at this point, but the thinking behind the process would be that general manager Ruben Amaro would be able to negotiate a contract extension with the Phils' third ace sometime during the season.
How did that work out for Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals?
Granted, those are two entirely different scenarios, but the Pujols saga in St. Louis should teach the Phillies a valuable lesson: There are no guarantees that Hamels will be wearing red pinstripes in 2013. After failing to reach an agreement with Pujols heading into Spring Training, the first baseman refused to discuss a new contract during the regular season, fearing it would impact his play.
Now he's a member of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Phillies are in a similar situation with Hamels. Though both sides are willing to discuss a new contract, and both sides want Hamels to be a member of the Phillies well into the future, the fact that they've been unable to make any strides towards a new deal should be concerning, especially considering the fact that Amaro has made most of his contract extensions in the month of January.
Though there have been no definitive reports suggesting that this is the case, the reason to believe that there is a sizable gap between what the Phillies are offering and what Hamels is looking for is obvious.
The Phillies will look to use a couple of aces with comparable numbers as the framework for a Hamels extension. The first would be Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers, who signed a five-year, $80 million contract prior to the 2010 season, the average annual value (AAV) of which is $16 million.
The second comparable is a deal that Hamels' agents would be wise to try and discredit. That deal is between the Angels and their ace, Jered Weaer, who gave the Angels what is considered to be a "hometown discount," signing a five-year, $85 million deal, the AAV of which would be $17 million.
While that would be a fair deal for Hamels, his agents are licking their chops at the thought of taking him to free agency. He would be the best starting pitcher available in yet another thin class for pitching, and teams like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are known to have interest in his services.
In the prime of his career and left handed, there is little doubt that Hamels, on the free agent market, would be much more comparable to Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia, both of whom signed mega-deals as free agent lefties at the top of their class.
That should give the Phillies some pause. They know that if they want to sign him to a contract extension, they'll have to pay Hamels at least $20 million a year. At that point, the Phillies would be carrying a payroll with more than $60 million committed to three starting pitchers for the next few seasons. Is that a wise business proposition?
Of course, this would be the best option for the Phillies. Hamels is a homegrown starting pitcher, and the Phillies have locked up most of their homegrown players. Signing him to a contract extension before the season makes a lot more sense than giving him the opportunity to explore other offers on the open market, but the second best direction may surprise you some:
Trade him now. We'll discuss that in another post.