Cole Hamels had to stay in Philly

BY Ken Rosenthal • July 24, 2012

The moment hit him. It hit him when it happened, and I’ll bet it hit him afterward.

Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels did something unusual when he walked off the mound to a standing ovation at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday.

He waved to the crowd.

I can’t say for certain that Hamels decided at that moment that he was going to stay with the Phillies. But covering the game as the field reporter for FOX, the question kept racing through my mind:

How could he leave?

Well, we have our answer now.

Hamels, 28, agreed to a six-year contract extension with the Phillies for $144 million. The deal, which includes a club vesting option for 2019 and a limited no-trade provision, is the second largest ever awarded to a starting pitcher.

Yes, he is from San Diego. Yes, he could have signed a free-agent contract at the end of the season, possibly with the Los Angeles Dodgers, possibly for even more money.

But that standing ovation Saturday crystallized everything that Hamels has always loved about living in Philadelphia, playing for the Phillies and performing before their loyal, exuberant fans.

At the time, it wasn’t clear whether the fans were responding to his flawed, gallant, 128-pitch effort or the possibility that he was making his last start in a Phillies uniform.

It also wasn’t clear whether Hamels was waving in appreciation, or waving goodbye.

Regardless, the fans’ affection for Hamels, their 2008 World Series MVP, was unmistakable.

Maybe that was the moment he decided: I don’t want to be traded. I want to stay, and stay for a very long time.

If Hamels had rejected the Phillies’ offer, he almost certainly would have been moved to a team in a more competitive position, a team that likely would have viewed him as a two-month rental before he hit the open market.

He would have risked tens of millions every time he took the mound in the final two months of the season, knowing injuries to pitchers are not exactly uncommon.

And he would have snubbed the franchise that nurtured him from the time it selected him with the 17th overall pick in the 2002 amateur draft.

Still, it’s business, folks. Sentiment goes only so far.

Hamels could have taken a much colder approach to all this. Could have resented the Phillies for waiting so long to sign him while lavishing riches on other players. Could have viewed the team’s future skeptically, and decided he wanted out.

Such a view would not have been unreasonable; one reason the Phillies want to keep Hamels so badly is because he is one of their few stars in his prime. Most of the club’s other big names are in their early- to mid-30s, and several are coming off significant injuries.

Yet the Phillies, buoyed by their sellout crowds and the promise of a new local television contract after the 2015 season, continue to go full bore.

The team, too, could have taken a different tack in these negotiations, looked at its bulging payroll and said, “Enough.” But one reason players flock to Philadelphia is because of the commitment of Phillies ownership to winning.

Hamels, at a new average salary of $24 million, becomes the Phillies’ third $20 million pitcher and fourth $20 million player, joining Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and first baseman Ryan Howard.

Don’t ask me how the Phils will address their payroll issues, which players they will trade to create flexibility, whether they are setting themselves up to crash later this decade.

Their philosophy, under general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., is to make the big splash, and figure out the rest later.

Hamels qualifies as a huge splash with the second biggest contract for a pitcher in baseball history. But in the end, this deal is testament to a player’s love for his adopted city and original team.

The moment hit him last Saturday.

Cole Hamels couldn’t leave.

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