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Phils looking for ways to sign Hamels and avoid the luxury tax

You are Cole Hamels and you have the world at your feet. You are a lefthanded starting pitching ace, with Hollywood good looks, a sterling resumé of charity work in the community, and a popular, beautiful wife by your side. Your major-

If Cole Hamels has a great season, he could be in line for a $25 million contract. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
If Cole Hamels has a great season, he could be in line for a $25 million contract. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)Read more

You are Cole Hamels and you have the world at your feet.

You are a lefthanded starting pitching ace, with Hollywood good looks, a sterling resumé of charity work in the community, and a popular, beautiful wife by your side. Your major-league talents are showcased by one of the best teams in baseball. You are on the verge of the biggest payday of your life.

Behind Door No. 1 is a surefire cash deal your current team may be willing to provide: say, a five-year contract at an average of $20 million a year. It would make you a wealthy pitcher, but not as wealthy as a couple of others, including someone on your own staff.

What's behind Door No. 2 is unknown. But inside that door might be a financial package that could make you perhaps the richest pitcher in baseball. All you do is have your regular successful season: a record something like 17-7, with an earned-run average of about 3.00. Deep inside your soul, you know that these baseball management people can be stone crazy when it comes to material things - the star player empowers them and it keeps wolves away from their door and fans clamoring to get in.

If the pursuing franchise is flush with cash and is desperate for a championship, the superstar's worth may even be inflated. Hence, if Hamels has a great year this season, he will be in line for a contract that might make him $25 million a season, or more, for six years.

If you are Cole Hamels, what path would you take? And if you are the Phillies, what do you do?

Along with Ryan Howard's scarred-up heel, the Hamels affair is the biggest story of spring training. We know Howard's coming back. This year and the year after and the year after that. But we can't say the same about Hamels, who is playing on a one-year, $15 million contract constructed to compromise arbitration. And Phillies fans are anxious.

A couple of years ago, fans considered the kid from San Diego as soft as guacamole. And now he's the homegrown talent they can't do without. Part of the rationale is this: He's a product of the Phils system, he's younger, and he might have an even bigger upside than a guy to whom the team is paying $25 million, the man who blew a four-run lead in last year's playoff series against the Cardinals - Clifton Phifer Lee.

We now know, after years of sellouts and the recent report that the Phils have already sold 3.1 million tickets for this season, that this is not an organization lacking cash. But to the Phillies, two things bring them fright: death and luxury taxes. They blanch at spending more than $178 million, the league-mandated threshold for the luxury tax, where any amount above that results in a dollar-for- dollar tax to the league.

Right now, the Phils have a payroll of about $180 million (with eight of their players consuming about $125 million). And it explains why, behind the scenes, they are trying so hard to unload Joe Blanton.

But this year isn't really the year that counts. Next year's payroll is the issue that involves a new contract for Hamels. So let's look a little closer.

Not counting Hamels, the Phils in 2013 must commit about $160 million to 11 players. That includes: Lee ($25M), Howard ($20M), Roy Halladay ($20M), Chase Utley ($15M), Jonathan Papelbon ($13M), and Jimmy Rollins ($12M).

Signing Hunter Pence again will add at least another $12 million. Carlos Ruiz is in line for a contract about $6 million to $7 million. Kyle Kendrick and Laynce Nix add $6 million more. There's arbitration money for John Mayberry Jr. and Antonio Bastardo. And then they would still have to get 12 other players under contract to complete a 25-man roster.

Deciding not to re-sign Shane Victorino would give the Phils a little relief, but then who is his replacement? If the Phillies give Hamels $20 million, they are likely going to see the tax man.

We're not talking about the Oakland Athletics here. The Phils can afford it. But here is the thing about the luxury tax: It's a pit of quicksand, poised to swallow. Phils management knows that if it starts wading in tax, there might be no way to stop the team from going down. If they can afford a penalty of $2 million one year, they can surely afford a little more the following year. And so on and so on. And before you know it, they're the Yankees.

Considering the lucrative television-rights contract that awaits them in 2016 - when either the Phils form their own TV network, or happily gouge Comcast for billions in a new deal - maybe that's not such a dire circumstance.

Hamels and his agent, John Boggs, know that well. Does Hamels care that the Phillies dip into the red of the luxury tax? Uh, I don't think so. Boggs has already let word out that if the Phillies don't sign his client to a long-term deal by the end of spring training, there will be no more negotiations and the slender lefty will test the free-agent market.

In a conversation I had with Boggs on 97.5 The Fanatic, Hamels' agent twice dropped the name of Albert Pujols, the slugger the Cardinals let get away to the Los Angeles Angels because they didn't commit to signing him earlier.

A player's worth is a player's worth. At the end of the year, if Hamels has delivered his usual good stuff, he'll be worth $25 million a season. You don't think the Yankees, who once let Lee get away and saw their pitching staff fall apart, will pay that? You don't think the Los Angeles Dodgers, determined to make their way back to baseball elitism under new ownership and fresh, large cash, will pony up for Hamels? The Texas Rangers? The Angels?

It's your world, Cole. And it's your move, Phillies.

Parting shot. I know it is the hope of Phillies fans that their favorite baseball team will undergo an offensive transformation - that the Phils will show better plate discipline, take more walks, play some small ball, and get better at situational hitting.

It's not going to happen. Veteran players who have done it their way for their entire careers don't change. And the Phils added even more sluggers to their bench. You've been warned. Don't yell at me when Jimmy Rollins pops up a 3-1 curveball.