Here we are, eight years into the new millennium, more than 125 years since the Phillies began operating a professional baseball team, and the organization still can't tell the difference between what is smart and what it can get away with.
The Phils have bungled the handling of Cole Hamels' contract, and there's no other way to look at it. They have upset a valuable part of their roster, apparently because they had the right to do so.
"We think he's been treated very fairly," general manager Pat Gillick said, failing to understand that it doesn't matter what the team thinks. What matters, ultimately, is what the player thinks.
And fair? Forget fair. There is no fair in a world in which throwing a hide-covered ball of yarn is worth millions of dollars. Fair has nothing to do with anything. All that should matter to the Phillies as they consider each move that crosses the desk is what will make the team more likely to win baseball games.
In the case of Hamels, now and in the future, the Phillies have made winning less likely. Cole Hamels has the potential to be a great pitcher for a long time, but it is now less likely that he will be happy here, less likely that he will pitch through his annual collection of tics, spasms and strains, and less likely that he will stay with the organization once escape is possible.
But, congratulations, Pat, you saved $200,000.
To recap, the team and Hamels failed to agree on what the pitcher should be paid this season. Hamels wanted $700,000, but the Phillies thought that was too much. Because he doesn't have enough service time to qualify for arbitration or free agency, Hamels must take the number they put on the contract - or find another profession. The Phillies renewed him for $500,000, repeating the mistake they made last season with Ryan Howard. Penny-wise, roster-foolish.
Hamels, committing the sin of speaking honestly, called the renewal a "low blow," and said the memory of it would stick like peanut butter in his frontal lobes.
Now, let's dispense with the obligatory, beside-the-point observations:
$500,000 is a lot of money.
We all wish we could be treated so badly.
Cole Hamels, let's face it, is a bit of a sensitive Californian.
I mean, the whole traveling chiropractor thing, give us a break.
Shut up and pitch, already.
All true, but completely irrelevant. What matters is what the player sees when he looks around. Hamels, who won 15 games last season (making him the modern-day pitching equivalent of a superhero), looks around and sees an organization that paid Freddy Garcia and Jon Lieber a combined $17.5 million last season for their combined four wins. He sees an organization so savvy with money that it will pay more than $8 million this season to continue the thrill ride that has been The Adam Eaton Experience.
The system worked to the benefit of those players, not to the benefit of the team. That same system is not yet working to the benefit of Hamels, but - assuming his arm bone remains connected to his shoulder bone - it will soon enough. Next off-season, he should be eligible for arbitration. Beyond that, he will get in line for one of those contracts that helps ease the pain for Garcia, Lieber, Eaton and many others.
And what will Hamels be thinking about when his day arrives? Perhaps things will change, but it appears he will be thinking of the season in which his happiness wasn't worth $200,000 to the Phillies. What idiots.
Here's a quick history lesson about another very talented, very sensitive player who was handled terribly by the organization, albeit during a previous front-office administration. When Scott Rolen won the rookie of the year award in 1997, the Phillies wouldn't pay to fly his parents into town for the ceremony. Rolen never forgot that - all right, he never forgets anything - and the relationship between the player and the team deteriorated from there.
Could Rolen have easily paid for the trip? Of course. Was he being petulant? Naturally. But that doesn't matter. For the price of two plane tickets and a ride from the airport, the Phillies began a process that eventually cost them the services of a great third baseman. A brilliant strategy.
The Hamels situation isn't the same thing, but it is the same principle. Just because you don't have to spend some money, just because there isn't a rule book somewhere forcing you to spend it, doesn't mean that spending it anyway isn't a good idea.
The Phillies are technically right about how they handled Hamels' contract. They followed the rules, doing what they were required to do and little more.
Being right isn't the same thing as being smart, though. All these years and they still don't get that.