In today's paper, we took a look at what I consider to be the most pressing contract situation that the Phillies face between now and the start of next season. Yes, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Madson will be free agents. Yes, decisions will have to be made on whether to tender contracts to Kyle Kendrick and Ben Francisco, both of whom will be arbitration eligible for a second time.
But in terms of both dollars and scenarios, Hamels represents the most complicated decision that Ruben Amaro Jr. and his front office will have to discuss. And, in my opinion, the sooner they make an aggressive offer to their 27-year-old lefthander, the better position they will enjoy at the bargaining table.
In some ways, it is hard to believe that we are already discussing Hamels in these terms. My first year on the beat, the big question was whether he could make it through a season healthy. Well, he hasn't spent time on the disabled list since then. In fact, since the start of that 2008 season, Hamels ranks 11th in the majors with 753 2/3 innings pitched, trailing only Roy Halladay, C.C. Sabathia, Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, Dan Haren, Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, James Shields and Mark Buehrle.
From 2007 to 2010, he was one of only 15 pitchers in the majors to log at least 180 innings in all four seasons.
In today's story, we compared Hamels' numbers to C.C. Sabathia's before the lefty signed his huge deal with the Yankees. The big difference, of course, is Sabathia was a free agent, so the open market increased his value. Hamels can't become a free agent until after next season.
In terms of determining what it might take to sign Hamels right now, we are better off looking at three arbitration-eligible pitchers who signed long-term deals after their fifth season of service time, which Hamels is currently in the middle of (he entered 2011 with four years of service):
Justin Verlander: Signed a five-year, $80 million deal prior to the 2010 season. That's an average annual value of $16 million a year. But he signed that deal with four years of service time, one fewer than Hamels will have after this season. Verlander was paid $6.75 million for his fifth year of service in 2010, and is making $12.75 million this year in his sixth year of service. In what would have been his first three years of free agency, he will earn $20 million a season before hitting the market again after 2014.
Felix Hernandez: He signed a deal similar to Verlander's about a month before Verlander signed his deal. The full value is $78 million over five years. He is getting paid $10 million this year in his sixth year of service, then will get $18.5 million, $19.5 million and $20 million in what would have been his first three years of free agency.
Carlos Zambrano: He signed a five year, $91.5 million deal in August of 2007, which was his sixth year of service time (in other words, 2012 for Hamels). That deal paid him $15 million, $17.75 million, $17.875 million, $17.875 million and $18 million for his first five years of free agency, with a $19.25 million vesting player option for his sixth year of free agency (2013). The deal also included a $5 million signing bonus that essentially raised his salary in his sixth year of service to $17.4 million.
Here is how Hamels' numbers stack up to those three pitchers when they signed their deals:
The numbers pretty much speak for themselves. Sure, you have to take into consideration the fact that Hamels pitches in the National League while Verlander and Hernandez pitch in the American League. But Hernandez also pitches in an extreme pitchers park.
The thing to note about all three contracts is the salary that is being paid in the free agent years (in other words, 2013 and beyond for Hamels). Verlander is getting $20 million a year. And that contract was signed last year, before Cliff Lee got his five-year, $120 million deal from the Phillies.
So what will it take to sign Hamels?
You can start with an average annual value of at least $20 million per year for each free agent year that is under contract. And you can count on at least $15 million for next season, his final arbitration year. So an aggressive yet reasonable offer from the Phillies right now would probably be somewhere in the neighborhood of $95 million over five years. The question is, would Hamels be satisfied with such an offer, or might he angle for a contract closer to the one the Phillies gave Lee? If Hamels were a free agent right now, he could reasonably look for a deal similar to the seven-year, $189 million contract Sabathia signed. But he isn't a free agent, so he doesn't have that leverage. Still, with every passing day, he gets a little bit more leverage, because he is that much closer to free agency.
Hamels clearly enjoys playing for the Phillies and living in Philadelphia. He makes his full-time home in the area. But he also has every right to maximize his earning window, which is limited for a pitcher. Baseball's system is structured in a way that star players are vastly underpaid during their years in the minors and their first two or three years in the majors, and less vastly underpaid in their arbitration years. They are at the mercy of their clubs. They can be sent down to the minors at will, and can be paid a fraction of what they are worth. Any money a player leaves on the table is not being donated to Good Will. It's going to somebody else -- either another player, or in the pockets of owners.
The Phillies did not want to go beyond three years with Hamels when they signed him to a contract extension after the 2008 season. You can't blame Hamels if he is now looking for all the security he can possibly get.
It should be interesting to watch.
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