Creative Writing and Cole Hamels

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Is there a reason that Cole Hamels‘s pending free agency is constantly updated as if there’s something to discuss?

It’s more trolling and laziness when there’s nothing to write about, so a “story” is formulated regardless of reality.

Here’s my logical outsider’s perspective from both sides of the bargaining table.

For the Phillies.

Eventually there has to be financial sanity; a realization that this cycle is ending and they must shift focus on a future that’s approaching faster than anticipated. At some juncture, they’ll need to restrain spending on the big league product and rebuild the minor league system.

The Phillies have a lot of players making a lot of money and giving Hamels the contract he’s going to demand may not be the best possible maneuver for them.

Cliff Lee is guaranteed $87.5 million from 2013 through 2015.

Roy Halladay is guaranteed $20 million in 2013 with an option for another $20 million in 2014 with kickers based on innings pitched that, barring catastrophe, he’s going to achieve.

Ryan Howard is guaranteed $105 million from 2013 through 2016.

Chase Utley is signed for 2013 at $15 million.

Jonathan Papelbon is guaranteed $13 million annually from 2013-2015 with a $13 million vesting option for 2016 based on games finished.

Jimmy Rollins is guaranteed $22 million for 2013-2014 with an $11 million option for 2014 based on plate appearances. If the Phillies aren’t as good as they’ve been in recent years, Rollins is not going to get enough at bats to activate the option.

Hunter Pence is arbitration eligible after this season and a free agent after 2013.

Shane Victorino, Placido Polanco and Joe Blanton are free agents after this season.

Hamels is making $15 million this season and they could backload his contract to account for the money coming off the books in the future, but then they’ll be paying $25-30 million annually for a pitcher at age 33-36 as they’re doing with Lee now. It’s easy to say they should let Victorino leave along with the likely departures of Blanton and Polanco, but the Phillies farm system is gutted and they’ll still have to replace their centerfielder, their third baseman and their fifth starter. With Halladay, Lee, Hamels and (if his elbow doesn’t blow out) Vance Worley, that’s a good 1-4 starting rotation. They could find someone to fill out the fifth slot and be okay pitching-wise with Papelbon as the closer. But their problem this season has been a lack of offense and they’re going to be replacing Victorino’s offense and defense with whom? And who’s going to play third?

The Phillies have shown little willingness to give their young players a chance to play in their new incarnation of a star-studded, big name-centric club and they don’t have any major prospects ready to fill those positions for 2013.

This is also assuming Utley comes back and is: A) able to play; and B) able to contribute 60-75% of what he was in his prime. With his recurring knee issues, that’s not a reasonable expectation.

I suppose they could swing a deal with the Red Sox to get Kevin Youkilis for 2013 while he’s signed and stick him at third, but he’s been injured and declining similarly to Utley.

B.J. Upton will be too expensive to sign as a replacement centerfielder and to keep Hamels and to find a third baseman who can hit. Torii Hunter could be a stopgap for a year or two in centerfield. Or they could keep Victorino.

For argument’s sake, let’s say the Phillies pay up to keep Hamels. What they’ll be doing is mortgaging the future—when both Lee and Halladay will be gone—and rely on an aging Hamels to be their ace for a team that will be in the midst of a major rebuild. He’ll be untradeable, fading and expensive. If they keep him, it would be with an eye on chasing a title in 2013-2014 and not worrying about 2015 and beyond.

Is that worth 7-8 years at $160-180 million?

For Hamels.

There is no reason whatsoever for Hamels to agree to a down-the-line contract during the season and shun his first opportunity at free agency while he’s pitching brilliantly at age 28.

Hamels has thrown at least 180 innings from 2007-2011 and he’ll break that threshold again this season. He’s got the post-season bonafides including the NLCS and World Series MVPs in 2008. He can handle pressure and a tough home crowd.

Why shouldn’t he maximize his dollars by exploring free agency?

The Yankees are always looking for pitching and given the disasters of their attempts to develop their own, if the 2012 season doesn’t go according to their mandate of championship or bust, they might use their checkbook to fill their self-created holes as they did after 2008 when they signed CC Sabathia.

The Dodgers new ownership is aggressive, willing to spend and Hamels is from Southern California.

The Cubs have money; the Mets’ finances are getting in order; the Orioles are finally showing signs of legitimate improvement; the Rangers consider everything and willing to pay; the Blue Jays are about ready to go for a title; the Marlins could continue their spending spree.

Hamels likes Philadelphia and presumably would like to stay, but he’s not going to do the Phillies any favors when it comes down to dollars.

In short, there are landing spots for Hamels. Why would he sabotage himself by signing now?

The answer is he won’t.

The reality.

This talk of the Phillies and Hamels having “discussions” or “contact” or “preparing to engage” or whatever terminology is considered new is just that: talk.

Or nonsense.

There’s not going to be a deal during the season and if the Phillies want to keep Hamels, it’ll take a big check. It won’t be until after the season and both sides will examine their circumstances and move forward accordingly.

It could go either way. Don’t let “insiders” or websites tell you any different.

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2012 National League East Predicted Standings

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Wins Losses GB
1. Atlanta Braves 93 69
2. Philadelphia Phillies* 89 73 4
3. Washington Nationals* 88 74 5
4. Miami Marlins 83 79 10
5. New York Mets 69 93 24

*Denotes predicted Wild Card winner.

Atlanta Braves

There’s a misplaced belief that the team that made the most drastic and biggest moves in the off-season is automatically the “best” team.

Because the Braves did nothing to add to the roster that collapsed out of a playoff spot, they’re virtually ignored as a legit contender.

There was addition by subtraction by getting rid of Derek Lowe; they made significant improvements in-season by acquiring Michael Bourn. They’re going to be helped by the gained experience of young players Freddie Freeman, Jonny Venters, Craig Kimbrel and Mike Minor; the return to form from Martin Prado; a healthy “I wanna get paid” year from Brian McCann; a better start and more consistency from Dan Uggla; and, most importantly, a healthy and “he has to be better because he can’t be worse” year from Jason Heyward.

Philadelphia Phillies

Chase Utley is hoping to play in spring training games within this week. Obviously his knee tendinitis will forever be an issue, but a great player like Utley doesn’t need the 6 weeks of spring training to be ready. Inside baseball people would never admit this for financial reasons, but spring training is far too long as it is. Pitchers need maybe 3 ½ weeks to be ready to start the season; hitters far less.

The Phillies are old; there are injury questions hovering around Roy Halladay (as much as people think he’s a machine, he’s not a machine.); their lineup is pockmarked and questionable; but with their starting rotation and bullpen addition of Jonathan Papelbon, they’ve got enough left for at least one more run.

Washington Nationals

They’re the next hot thing for many reasons.

They have a load of top-tier draft picks ready to make the move into big league notoriety; they’ve accumulated starting pitching; they have a devastating back-end of the bullpen; a lineup that can mash; and a veteran manager who has a history of winning.

They’re going to look back on Chien-Ming Wang’s injury and that they couldn’t follow through on a rumored trade of the severely underrated John Lannan and breathe a sigh of relief; the concept of bringing Bryce Harper to the big leagues at 19 needs to be considered carefully and he should not play center field; Gio Gonzalez is not the guarantee the bounty of prospects and expensive, unnecessary contract he received would indicate; and Stephen Strasburg can’t be considered an “ace” as long as he’s on a pitch/innings limit that Davey Johnson would undoubtedly love to toss into a nearby garbage can.

But they’re very talented and a viable contender.

Miami Marlins

Never mind the ownership, the new ballpark and the investigations swirling around the way said ballpark was approved and paid for. Forget about the monstrosity that will be on display whenever a Marlins’ player hits a home run and is sure to cause seizures among a large segment of unsuspecting fans. (See below.)

Cold, clinical analysis will tell you that this team is either going to be a major success or a testament to rubbernecking to see how quickly the clubhouse, manager’s office and front office degenerates into organizational cannibalism, whisper campaigns and a media feeding frenzy.

This is a powder keg. I don’t like powder kegs.

Ozzie Guillen’s teams with the White Sox consistently underachieved; Jose Reyes’s health is a question; Hanley Ramirez did not want to move to third base and is going to eventually pout about his contract; their defense is awful.

With a good pitching staff and all these questions, they could be good. With all the other issues, they could explode. Fast.

New York Mets

Yes. I’m a Mets fan.

Question my analysis, but don’t question my integrity.

Here are the facts: they’re in an impossible division; they’re short on starting pitching; they didn’t improve the club in the winter; the franchise is engulfed by the lawsuit against the Wilpons stemming from the Bernie Madoff mess; and they’re rebuilding.

They’re not good and they’re starting over with young players.

We won’t know much about the future of the Sandy Alderson-led baseball operations or what they’re going to do with players like David Wright until the trial is completed. They might be sold; the Wilpons might maintain ownership; the team might be slightly better than most projections depending on multiple factors.

It is what it is.

Accept it.

Click here for a full sample of Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide (this link is of the Blue Jays) of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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