It is rare that a starting pitcher as good as Cole Hamels is every at a spot in his career where he'll hit the open market, but that's where Cole is at right now. After the 2012 season, Hamels will be eligible to file for free agency and will undoubtedly get the biggest pay day of his life. That is, of course, unless the Phillies find a way to sign him to an extension. As was the case with Joey Votto, we'll look at a core of four things necessary to analyze the possibility of an extension for Hamels:
1) His future value
2) The structure of a possible extension
3) The ability of the Phillies to extend him
4) Other feasible options for him to look at if he doesn't sign an extension
Section One: Future Value
As was the case with Joey Votto, we're looking at a very special talent in Cole Hamels. Consistency may be overrated, but there is something to be said about a guy who has made 31 or more starts the past four seasons with an average of 6 2/3 innings per start. This consistency makes it very easy to look at his past success and allows us to project his future success without playing much of a guessing game. To get a good idea of what Hamels has done in the past, let's look at the two-year window we looked at with Votto:
2010: 9.10 K/9/ 2.63 BB/9/ 1.12 HR/9/ 45.4% GB/ 3.28 xFIP/ 3.26 SIERA
2011: 8.08 K/9/ 1.83 BB/9/ 0.79 HR/9/ 52.3% GB/ 3.02 xFIP/ 3.03 SIERA
First, I must clear some things up here: Hamels' K/9 rate is an average of 8.45 for his career, his walk rate is closer to 2 than 2.6, his HR/9 is 1.09, and his GB% has been consistently increasing over the past four seasons. So, as you have probably noticed, we are looking at a pitcher who has done everything well over the past couple of years. He strikes batters out at a good rate, has fantastic control, and he gets a ton of ground balls. A pitcher that pounds the lower part of the strike zone and gets swings and misses is just about the best pitcher you can ask for when predicting future success. As far as age goes, Hamels is already at an age where his skill set isn't likely to get any better. He'll be 28 years old next year, and it will be his 6th full season in the majors, so what you see is likely what you're going to get.
Knowing that is a great thing, because Hamels put it all together last year and had his best season. If he plateaus like he should, then he should be a pitcher worth about 5 wins every year for the next few years. His control, pitch quality, and stamina point to him not breaking down any time soon, so it makes sense to project him to be a high quality pitcher for a few years to come.
Section Two: Structure of a Potential Extension
Let's be realistic: pitchers carry a lot more concern than hitters do. Even someone with great mechanics and tons of stamina like Hamels can have his arm slot off enough on a pitch to snap a ligament in his elbow or blow up a tendon in his shoulder. That being said, signing Hamels to an extension is all about going 6 years or less. I would have an extremely hard time giving any pitcher a contract of 7 years or more, just because the risk/reward ratio grows too much. With Hamels, there is a lot less risk than with other pitchers, so 6 years is a good length. This gets a team solid control of Hamels from the ages of 28 to 33, which is good enough to wrap up the last years of Hamels' prime, and keeps him just long enough to avoid the time where he'll completely break down. So, with the ideal length of the contract being known, we can look at what Hamels should produce over that time span:
2012: 5.0 WAR
2013: 5.0 WAR
2014: 4.8 WAR
2015: 4.4 WAR
2016: 4.0 WAR
2017: 3.5 WAR
Assuming that Hamels' great skill set and stamina uphold, these numbers are very realistic to expect from him. The first couple years of this model ask for Hamels to repeat his previous season, but the latter years ask him to decline at a faster rate than he probably will. Given this, I think this model is a good one to look at for overall value, which means that Hamels should produce about 26.7 wins of value over the next six seasons, which means he's in for a pretty big pay day. To remain consistent, I'm going to use the D/WAR figures from the Votto write-up to portray what extended players should go for on average over the next six years:
2012: 4.0 d/WAR
2013: 4.3 d/WAR
2013: 4.6 d/WAR
2014: 4.9 d/WAR
2016: 5.2 d/WAR
2017: 5.2 d/WAR
This model calls for an average d/WAR ratio of 4.7 for extended players over the next six seasons. This means that Hamels, to have a completely fair market value deal, will receive 125.5 million dollars for the duration of his contract. This means that his anticipated AAV is going to be 21 million dollars per year over the next six years. So after breaking it all down, we are looking at a completely fair market value deal for Hamels being:
6 years/ 125.5 million dollars (20.9 million AAV)
Section Three: Ability for the Phillies to Re-Sign Him
This one seems like a bit of a tough call, but at the same time, it doesn't. GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. has definitely not been afraid to hand out big deals in the past, and I doubt he has to worry about it much with Hamels. An extension for Hamels really revolves around a few key things for the Phillies:
1. Do they want to re-sign Roy Halladay after the 2013 season?
2. Ryan Howard's extension doesn't kick in until 2014 (the same time they want to re-sign Halladay)
3. Do they want to bring back a 35 year old Chase Utley after the 2013 season?
4. Jonathan Papelbon will make the majority of his money from 2013 and beyond (13 million a season)
5. How aggressive do the Phillies want to be after 2013, which is the obvious year (for now) that they will be looking at rebuilding? If they rebuild after 2013, are they going to be able to move Hamels at during the turnover, or would they be better off trading him now?
To me, the best thing would be to try to get a bit younger in this scenario, given that the 2013 off season is looking like an off season from hell for Philly, but they are pretty clearly built to win right now. They have one of the oldest core groups of players in all of baseball, they have a lot of big money guys already on, and losing a pitcher like Hamels would really hurt them a lot, because replacing him is going to be very hard.
Section Four: Feasibility of Other Options
1. A Trade- No, it's not ideal. It's probably not very realistic either, given the current state of the Phillies' roster. However, if the Phillies want to be much of anything after 2013 (without becoming the Yankees and spending a ton to do patchwork), they really should try to trade Hamels. However, that is a lot harder than it looks at the moment. Who in the world would they trade him to? There is no doubt in my mind that they team they trade him to needs to be able to extend him in the very near future for the deal to make sense. Right now, there are only a couple teams that could afford the kind of extension Hamels will be looking for:
New York Yankees- Yeah, the Yankees may have been quiet this off season, but I think there's a big reason for that: they want to attack the free agent market for pitching after the 2012 season. Money isn't a question with New York, so the only thing that matters is the prospects they're willing to give up. In a trade for Hamels, the Yankees would have to likely give up Betances, Banuelos, and Montero, but it's probably worth it to the Yankees' ownership.
Toronto Blue Jays- It's scary to think, but with Anthopoulos at the helm, the building of a super team could very well emerge. Just as in the Joey Votto case, I expect the Blue Jays to be all over Hamels in trade rumors and in free agency. The Jays look like they have the pieces to get a deal done (and let's not kid ourselves, even if they didn't, Anthopoulos vs. Amaro is won by Toronto 90% of the time, so something could get done). They also look like they have the money.
Chicago Cubs- Right now, not a feasible trade partner at all. The Cubs don't have anywhere near the prospects to trade for Hamels, and even if they did they would be killing their rebuilding campaign to do so.
Atlanta Braves- the Braves definitely have the pieces to get a trade done, and I don't see a lot of reason for them to not have the money, but there's one problem: no way would the Phillies trade Hamels to their biggest competitors within the division.
Seattle Mariners- This is actually a trade partner that works very well. They've got the young arms to move in a deal, and they sound like they've got the money to afford the kind of deal that Hamels is looking for. If Hamels ever does hit the trade market for some unknown reason (say the Phils are unexpectedly bad at the deadline), the Seattle and Toronto should be the two teams to look out for in a trade.
2. Toronto Blue Jays (Free Agency)- As I said before, they'll be major players for Hamels if he ever hits the free agent market.
3. Seattle Mariners (Free Agency)- Same as above.
4. Miami Marlins- The Marlins missed out on acquiring a bigtime TOR starter this off season, and they've backloaded their contracts enough to make it so getting Hamels is an option. With Josh Johnson's health concerns being as drastic as they are, Hamels makes a ton of sense for Miami to bring in.
5. New York Yankees- Now, these options aren't in order of being most feasible. In my mind, if Hamels hits the open market, this is where he's going. That 6/125 figure I mentioned earlier? Yeah, on the open market with a team like the Yankees involved, Hamels is looking at 7/ 180 for sure.
6. Boston Red Sox- Hamels is the kind of player that is ideal for a typical Yankees vs. Red Sox bidding war, and Hamels might just choose Boston over New York.
Other teams in the hunt: Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles
In the end, I don't think we'll have to even worry about section four of this write up. I think the Phillies will definitely have the cash to extend Hamels, and I don't see any reason for Amaro to hesitate on pulling the trigger. Talk of a trade is nice and all, but the timing would be awful for the Phillies, because with Hamels on the team in the next two years, the Phils will be the favorites in the NL (no matter how quickly things fall downhill after that). This is a team that has a very, very short window of time that they are looking at to be able to win another WS, and moving Hamels off the roster simply wouldn't make sense (unless they got Betances, Banuelos, and Montero from the Yankees, which could make sense). In the end, I will guess that Hamels does indeed sign an extension with Philadelphia, and I would wager that the Phillies try to keep it shorter in length than what is ideal, because let's face it: they are going to need to rebuild after 2013. With that, I think Cole Hamels signs an extension with the Philadelphia Phillies for:
5 years/ 105 million dollars- full no-trade clause