MIAMI - After yet another Phillies loss, Cole Hamels relished the chance to talk about a positive development - his selection to this year's All-Star Game. He called it "a tremendous honor" and "something special."
That was before the 28-year-old lefthander considered the idea of fending off trade-rumor questions in Kansas City from hordes of national reporters.
"Is that all they're going to do?" Hamels asked.
Rumors of a Phillies fire sale intensified Sunday with national reports saying general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was calling teams to gauge interest in possible trade chips such as Hamels, Cliff Lee, Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino, or Joe Blanton. Amaro denounced such actions Monday, going so far as to ask local reporters to contact him.
"These aren't things we discuss or talk about in front of other people," Amaro said, "but our goals are always the same. Our goal is to try to continue to contend this year, to try to win the National League East. If we can't do that, we want to be a playoff club.
"Our other goal, frankly, is to keep Hamels in our uniform, short term and long term."
Amaro was asked whether he believes that re-signing Hamels is still realistic. "I do," he said.
"I have no indication to think otherwise, that's why," the GM said.
Contact between Amaro and Hamels' agent, John Boggs, has been almost nonexistent, according to a baseball source. But the two sides are well aware of what the demands are, and it would take but one phone call to make something happen.
Increasingly, it appears the Phillies must decide whether they are true players for his services before July 31. If they aren't, trading him for the best available package could be the best option.
"Those are things we'll deal with at the appropriate time," Amaro said.
Amaro said his team's recent performance has not dimmed his belief that the Phillies can contend. He has not established a time line for waving the white flag, if necessary.
"A lot of these rumors are products of the timing and way we're playing," Amaro said. "This is what happens in July. You have a team that's not playing very well, and we have very good players. We are going to get these types of rumors out there. I just want to make sure people understand where we stand."
Reports said Amaro indicated to teams that he was seeking a bounty for Hamels, which is no surprise. The general manager typically conducts such due diligence, even if he has no intention of actually making a move.
But two baseball sources said the Phillies should not expect to receive up to three top prospects for Hamels because he is a rental player.
Ultimately, Hamels' value is unknown on July 3 - 28 days until the deadline. It is totally dependent on the rest of the market. If the Milwaukee Brewers declined to make Zack Greinke available, Hamels' worth would increase because he'd be the only elite pitcher available. If the New York Yankees decided a rash of injuries to their staff necessitated the acquisition of another top arm, Hamels' worth would increase because teams would have to outbid the Yankees. And on and on.
What makes Hamels' situation different from the packages used in the Lee, Pence, and Roy Oswalt trades is his impending free agency. Lee was traded to Seattle with one full year remaining on his contract. Pence had 21/2 years, and Oswalt had 11/2 when they were acquired by Amaro.
The more years an acquiring team gets with its new player, the more it is willing to surrender for him.
If Hamels is dealt, he likely will not agree to an extension with his new team. The chance to test the market will be overwhelming.
A more relevant comparison for what Hamels could net is Carlos Beltran. He represented the best available hitter on the market last summer. In a trade with San Francisco, he fetched single-A righthander Zack Wheeler, now the New York Mets' top prospect.
Beltran was a rental, much like Hamels. Both are not eligible for draft-pick compensation. Hamels may be a more valuable player than Beltran, but it's not a comparison of players, rather markets.
Could this summer's market offer more in return? No one knows yet. So, what is the harm in calling other teams to ascertain the current value their potential trade chips? None.
That, so far, appears to be Amaro's lone action. Come late July, the phone calls could have more significance.