Doubts about re-signing Cole Hamels, who is positioned to become the hottest name in free agency, framed the Phillies’ winter headlines.
It’s safe to extinguish the hot stove. We’ve entered the part of the calendar when clubs feel the warmth of spring, the buzz of a brand-new season and set it as a rosy backdrop to persuade their best, young talent to stick around longer, just as the Nationals achieved with Ryan Zimmerman on Sunday. Rest assured, the Phillies are getting after it with their own homegrown treasure. They’ll try to convince Hamels to sign at a discount, just as Cliff Lee and his wife determined after scribbling out the list of pros and cons once the Phillies made their pitch. A lot can happen to a pitchers’ arm between now and, hopefully, the end of October. That’s the angle the Phillies will play. “We're built to win. Let’s give your family a lifetime of security now, Cole.”
He could pass. He could decide now is not the time to do anything except prepare for what he's done for six seasons, which is to sling it like the top-shelf, healthy hurler he is, chose his own destination in eight months and hit the baseball lottery in free agency.
Looking back on the hot stove, the most intriguing deals were the ones the Phillies didn't make: Ryan Madson, Aramis Ramirez, Michael Cuddyer, Gio Gonzalez, A.J. Burnett.
Fears about Hamels must have been the motivation behind the last two. Gonzalez was controllable through 2015, but Oakland had all the leverage to command the best package. Washington had the prospects to match them. Burnett, meanwhile, has two years remaining on his contract. The Phillies were reportedly set to swing a three-way deal involving Joe Blanton, Bobby Abreu of the Angels and Burnett.
The other rumors were windows in the Phillies’ throught process, too. Ramirez was directly related to re-signing Jimmy Rollins. If J-Roll bolted, the Phillies were expected to make a serious run at A-Ram, going so far as to put Placido Polanco on the table at the winter meetings. Obviously, these deals never happened, but at least we know they view Polanco with skepticism. Ditto Blanton, and ditto Kyle Kendrick as anything more than ready depth.
All these names pale in comparison to Hamels, and that would include Rollins and $50 million closer Jonathan Papelbon. Cole is the key to keeping the party going.
The Phillies, who’ve spent most of history with exactly one or no aces, will settle for no fewer than three.
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