Spring Training Storyline: Cole Hamels' Contract

When pitchers and catchers (and a handful of position players) reported at the Phillies training complex in Clearwater on Sunday, it marked the official beginning of baseball season.

For fans of the 29 teams who didn't win the World Series, this is a much needed reprieve from the long winter, where days were filled with thoughts of what might have been had things worked out a bit differently.

And now that spring training has more or less arrived, all we can do to fill the time until actual baseball happens is speculate and comment on the hot button issues facing the Phillies this season.

The biggest of those is undoubtedly the future of their homegrown ace, Cole Hamels, who will become a free agent after the 2012 season.

Originally drafted in 2002 by the Phillies, the lefty quickly shot up the ranks. Despite a sometimes rocky path in the minors, he has become one of the very best pitchers in the game, and already a recipient of a World Series MVP and an impressive resume. In six seasons in The Show, Hamels has a 74-54 record (not that W-L record matters), a 3.39 ERA and 1,091 strikeouts in 1,161.1 innings, while being considered one of the best left-handed hurlers in the game.

With pitching at a premium, Cole will no doubt have his fair share of suitors willing to pay him whatever he wants, with the only question being: will the Phillies?

With both Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee earning over $20 million annually, it seems likely that Hamels will demand -- and likely earn -- at least that. After all, 28-year-old lefties with Hamels' stuff don't come around that often.

During a press conference on Monday afternoon, Hamels gave the boilerplate answers when asked about his pending free agency and about his desire to stay with the Phillies. If you're an optimist, then it certainly looks like Cole wants to stay in Philly, and that money isn't what's driving him. But, if you're a cynical baseball fan who has been burned by free agency in the past, then it's not a stretch to think that Cole is just in lock-step with the free-agent-to-be script. That's not a bad thing, it's just the way it is. After all, no one (at least, no one with sense) is going to announce that they are going to chase the money at the end of the season knowing that they have to play in front of the home-town fans for the next six months.

For all intents and purposes, it really sounds like Hamels wants to stay. And why not? He'd be part of one of the best rotations in the game, and he can firmly cement his legacy in red pinstripes while getting another few shots at another Commissioner's Trophy.

Will a deal go down in the near future? Who knows. Hamels has said that there is no deadline on contract talks, so it's possible that a deal happens tomorrow, or in June. It's really up to him, his agent, and the front office.

From where I'm sitting, it would behoove the Phillies to get a deal done as soon as they can, because the more Cole sniffs free agency, the more willing he might be to test the waters.

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