As the second half ot the season gets underway, the top priority for the Phillies -- outside of making an improbable playoff run -- is to figure out whether or not they'll be ale to keep ace Cole Hamels past the 2012 season. According to a report, the Philadelphia front office is "preparing a substantial offer" for Hamels, in order to gauge his interest in staying in Philly.
That's according to ESPN's Jayson Stark, who reports that sources say that Phillies officials understand they may need to offer up "one of the the largest contracts in team history" if they want to retain Hamels.
The left-hander is a free agent after the 2012 season, and is already being wooed by players on other teams who are interested in his talents. (Clayton Kershaw's actual recruitment aside, the Dodgers are rumored to be very interested in spending a lot of Magic Johnson's money on Hamels.)
What's interesting about Stark's report, though, is that the Phillies are reportedly making "an attempt to determine whether they can sign him to an extension in the next two weeks."
In other words, the Phillies have figured out roughly their threshold for what they'll give Hamels and they want to see if it meets his demands. If it does, they'll work something out. If not, he's going to be a goner -- it's two weeks until the 2012 trade deadline, and if Hamels won't take the big deal from Philadelphia now, he's probably not going to take it in the offseason.
So how much are they offering? Well, the Phillies recently gave Cliff Lee a five-year, $120 million deal. And as Stark notes, they've never given more than five guaranteed years to a pitcher before. However, according to Stark's report, the Phils front office remains "wary of guaranteeing six years," but have also "had numerous internal discussions about whether to break that precedent in Hamels' case."
Prior to the season, it was believed that Hamels and Giants right-hander Matt Cain would fetch roughly the same price tag if they both hit free agency. Cain re-upped with San Francisco prior to the season, signing a five-year, $112.5 million extension.
Hamels would almost certainly demand more, particularly with only a half a season remaining before he hits free agency and his value at an all-time high thanks to trade rumors and a 10-win, 118-strikeout All-Star-worthy first half in 2012.
Signing Hamels could also be problematic in terms of the luxury tax; Stark reports that the Phils believe they can ink the lefty and still remain under the $178-million level. And other team executives also told Stark that the Phils genuinely think this is going to happen.
"They're trying to sign him," an executive from a club interested in talking Hamels trade told Stark. "And they think it's going to happen. At least that's what I was told."
One problem: Hamels may legitimately want to get out there and test free agency. A Phillies teammate told Stark that Hamels wants to "see what he's worth."
"If Cole has his way," Hamels' teammate and friend said. "He'll wait 'till the end of the year, go out there and see what he's worth and then ask the Phillies, 'OK, what do you think I'm worth?' "
This jives with what Hamels has said in the past. And it could make it difficult for the Phillies to re-sign him now, no matter what they're offering. But give Ruben Amaro credit: at least he's trying.