Finally, the rest of the dominos on baseball's winter diamond are ready to fall.
Jon Lester, identified by none other than Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. as the "linchpin" of the offseason, has found a new home. Lester chose a chance to make history on the north side of Chicago - and a $155 million paycheck - over his former, long-time home in Boston.
An industry held up by the indecision of one free agent can now resume, with fellow free agents finding new opportunities and general managers seeing new landing spots for potential trades.
As for the Lester signing itself, though? The Cubs gain is the Red Sox loss … is the Phillies gain?
The Phillies are at the very least actively listening on Cole Hamels, even if they aren't actively looking to trade him. Boston reportedly has strong interest in the Phillies ace and former World Series MVP.
And now that they need to fill a rotation spot meant for Lester, the Red Sox should be very motivated to move on Hamels. Boston has a farm system equipped with the pieces it would require to pry Hamels loose from Philadelphia.
So what could possibly be going through Hamels' head, not knowing exactly where he'll report to spring training in two months?
Although he's from San Diego, Hamels is not in town for the Winter Meetings: he was set to move into a new home in St. Louis (where his wife is from) late last summer, where his children would be in school. Four months ago, when the Phillies were on their first of two, late-season west coast road trips, I talked with Hamels about his somewhat uncertain future. … a future that seems to be even less certain now that Phillies management has decided to rebuild.
"The way I play the game of baseball, I want to win," Hamels said in August, less than two weeks after the trade deadline. "I want to know that I'm in it from April 1. So as much as when they're asking me to be the guy to go out and win, I'm going to try to respond and be accountable for that. That's all I can live up to. In a sense, I don't know how the cards are going to fall or what they're planning on doing, because I'm not there, but if I just mention that I'm here to win and that I'm going to do everything in the four days to win, hopefully I'm one little piece they can count on. Or if that's not the case, they're going to have to do what the got to do."
Q: Now that you're on your way to 3 straight seasons of playing on a team without a winning record, it's much easier to see grass might be greener somewhere else. But does that fact that you've won here change that?
HAMELS: "It's all of known so far — except for the last 2 1/2 years. It is a long time."
Q: But, you don't necessarily need to go somewhere else to find that elusive ring, as Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay tried to do in their 30s, right?
HAMELS: "But at the same time, I want to try to get as many as I can. And I know my window of opportunity is only so large. So, you know, I feel like I'm in a place where I know what to do, I'm in my prime I guess, so I want to maximize what I can do and be an asset. I do, I want to be an asset. That's the only thing I can do - be accountable, and be an asset for something. And winning is the something."
Q: Would you ever feel the need go to Ruben this winter and voice your preference - to stay or leave?
HAMELS: "I don't think I can. I think the nature of the business and what it entails - the organization lasts longer than the player. I think the player, as fortunate as we are to do what we do, you have to take it with a grain of salt. And you should just be happy to play wherever you're needed and wanted. If you're fortunate where you get to play for an extended period of time and hopefully get a chance to win championships, great.
"But when it comes to business, there are going to be tough decisions they're going to have to make. All I can do is go out and play. I enjoy what i get to do and I want to do it for a long time. I want to win. I want to see how many World Championships I can get to. I know they're attainable.
"But it take a group of us to make it happen. If I go out and play, I don't have to make those decisions. I don't think it's probably in my best interests to be a demanding player, you know, that's never been my personality. So I go out and play, and if moves are made, I just accept the terms of being wherever you are, and getting to be somewhere for as long as you get to be."
The Red Sox are one of the teams Hamels could veto by way of his limited no-trade clause. But given his preference to play for a winner, that's not expected to be a stumbling block to a trade.
It should be noted that Hamels is far from the Red Sox only option to upgrade a rotation that lacks both a true No.1 and No.2. James Shields and Max Scherzer are still free agents, more than a few players who can be free agents next year could be available in a trade, like Jordan Zimmermann and Johnny Cueto, or Boston could make a couple of smaller moves before breaking the bank next winter, when both David Price and Zack Greinke could become free agents.
The last scenario is obviously the least likely - Boston didn't just spend nearly $200 million on Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval to ignore their rotation for 2015.
Will they want to spend another $110 million - what Hamels has left on his contract in the next 5 years, if a team option is vested - and part with 3 or 4 prospects, too, to strike a deal with the Phillies? Now that Lester is bound for Wrigley, we should find out the answer to that at some point in the near future.
If Hamels does move from Philly to Boston this winter, it would make for a very interesting Opening Day in South Philly: Citizens Bank Park is the site of the first game of the season for the rebuilt Red Sox, on Monday, April 6.