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The Phillies go big with Hamels. Is it too big?

Jul 25, 2012, 9:15 AM EDT

Philadelphia Phillies v Arizona Diamondbacks Getty Images

The Phillies deal with Cole Hamels is big. Really big. Like, the second largest contract to a pitcher in baseball history big. $144 million guaranteed, $161 million with a vesting option, the details of which are not known.

But here’s the question: can the Phillies really pull this off?

And by “this,” I mean the vast payroll outlays they have on the books.  As of now, the Phillies owe $133 million in 2013 to only nine players. Add to that a $5 million option owned to Carlos Ruiz that they’ll certainly pick up.  I would assume at this point that Hunter Pence will be dealt for payroll reasons, but if he isn’t and they want him around, he’s going to cost eight figures next year too.  That’s a lot of money for less than half of an aging roster.

But is it too much?  Maybe based on what we’re used to with baseball economics it is.  But as we’ve noted several times recently, we’re in a new era now thanks to the skyrocketing value of local TV deals.  The sort of which allowed the Angels to pay Albert Pujols what they paid him, with the difference being totally made up by the increase in their annual take from Fox.  An increase, thanks in part, to the star power that they can put on TV each night.

So, you’re the Phillies: you’re filling the house every night and, in three years, you can expect to get a windfall in local TV bucks.  If you don’t pay Cole Hamels that money and keep the team on perpetual win-now footing, are you able to reap that money?  If you do reap it, is Cole Hamels’ deal all that bad?

As is always the case, it depends on the cast surrounding him.  Is Roy Halladay beginning a decline? Is Chase Utley on his last leg? Is Ryan Howard going to level off and come close to justifying that deal?  Where is the rest of the offense going to come from?

Those are the big questions about the Phillies’ prospects going forward. The same questions they’ve always had.  The money owed to Cole Hamels, in some sense then, is not the biggest concern. Assuming he doesn’t go full-blown Zito on them, the investment in Hamels seems like the smallest risk they have.

  1. Jonny 5 - Jul 25, 2012 at 9:23 AM

    I already posted this in the wrong thread. So I’ll paste it where it belongs.

    Many people doubt the Phillies will risk going past the luxury tax threshold. They assume Lee would be traded, Victorino allowed to walk, etc… But I’m not so sure about that. With a TV deal somewhere in the range of 5 billion dollars on the horizon as a very real possibility I think the Phillies will do anything they can to keep ratings up. And let’s face it, those two guys help ratings and normally help the team win. I’m not saying things won’t happen to better balance the team, but I would be surprised to see any move which would say “We give up this season.” Anytime soon. For the sake of ratings. And it’s not like 10 games back from the wc spot is insurmountable for the Phillies.

    • mJankiewicz - Jul 25, 2012 at 9:53 AM

      I hope you’re not right. This team needs to get some young hitters and this season is their best chance to do it.

    • chap6869 - Jul 25, 2012 at 10:15 AM

      I replied to your previous post so I’ll paste here as well.
      Jonny 5, while your not wrong in saying that 10 games back is insurmountable, leapfrogging 7 teams that are currently in front of the Phillies is pretty improbable. It’s time to think of next year and beyond. Get prospects now and, as you said, they will have plenty of money going forward to spend on F/A in the future!!!!

      • mJankiewicz - Jul 25, 2012 at 10:27 AM

        Well said chap. The Phillies are not making the playoffs this year. They’ve dug themselves too deep of a hole. Sure it’s possible, but highly improbable. They’d be much better suited to use this time to address a serious need (their lack of young hitters) than hold on to something thats probably not there (a deep playoff run). If they deal Lee, or *gulp* Roy Halladay, they could get near MLB ready talent back and be back in contention next season and still front a rotation of Halladay/Lee, Hamels and Worley. Sounds good to me.

      • Jonny 5 - Jul 25, 2012 at 11:05 AM

        Ok, you guys can feel they won’t make the playoffs this season. But do the Phillies? I certainly haven’t given up on that notion.

        And as far as you thinking the Phillies will get MLB ready talent for any of their players that they now have under contract? Well I feel that’s quite more optimistic than my feelings on the season not being over with for them are. They won’t get much for Lee unless they kick in plenty of money. They won’t get much for Shane period. They may get some prospects back for Pence, but nowhere near what they gave up to get him.

        Trading Shane or Lee for basically nothing isn’t going to happen, it doesn’t make sense. Who knows what other plans they have, I just think you may be overvaluing the worth of your possible trade scenarios. But we will see won’t we? All we can do as fans is watch and hope.

      • mJankiewicz - Jul 25, 2012 at 11:20 AM

        I don’t see them getting a lot for Shane. But I do think Lee is still worth a considerable haul.

    • pinkfloydprism - Jul 25, 2012 at 11:23 AM

      The Phillies are going to be the next Yankees of the 1980’s.

    • chap6869 - Jul 25, 2012 at 1:14 PM

      I’m not arguing with you Jonny and I like your enthusiasm about still making the postseason. I just saying what seems more likely at this point. You would need a near total collapse of 7 teams while hoping upon hope that the Phillies win at like a .675 clip the rest of the way. Is it impossible?….no, is it probable?…NO!
      I’ll also agree that you might not get major league ready talent for Victorino or Blanton, maybe low minor league prospects or marginal AA/AAA talent but I think your underestimating Pence and Lees value. And, if the Phillies have to pay some of Lees salary to get that major league ready talent back, who cares. Do you think they wouldn’t do it if it meant getting a 3rd baseman or outfielder of the future? I think they most certainly would.

    • jl9830 - Jul 25, 2012 at 1:39 PM

      You think they’d be serious about trading Cliff Lee again? If they do, no one should ever trust Amaro’s word again.

      • mJankiewicz - Jul 25, 2012 at 3:22 PM

        That is a really good point. There’s a human element to trading Cliff Lee, and maybe even Halladay, that may prevent them from making such a move.

  2. dbick - Jul 25, 2012 at 9:41 AM

    I would deal Pence. Just because I don’t think his production is going to be worth his eventual salary.

    • paperlions - Jul 25, 2012 at 10:58 AM

      This is true….but if you think that…and I think that….don’t most GMs also think that? If so, what would he really bring in trade?

      • madhatternalice - Jul 25, 2012 at 12:01 PM

        Come on…GMs are dumb. There’s always someone who will overvalue a player …

      • paperlions - Jul 25, 2012 at 12:03 PM

        Indeed, and if you can’t find a dumb GM….you can always find a dumb owner that will force his GM to do something dumb.

      • dbick - Jul 25, 2012 at 3:48 PM

        Good point. I guess they (the Phillies) would just have to hope a contender is desperate and thinks adding a solid outfielder could be the missing piece that they need and that might make a team be willing to part with a couple decent prospects.

  3. El Bravo - Jul 25, 2012 at 10:09 AM

    Cole is the Phillies most “sure-thing” they have. Paying him shoulda been a given, and I think it was. He’s their ace now and will be their ace (given this contract) for a long time. Smart move. Suck it Philly.

    • skeleteeth - Jul 25, 2012 at 10:24 AM

      They should have walked away from Lee and done this instead. May have saved some bucks and allowed contracts to backend rotation guys for less money / years.

  4. 1rockyracoon - Jul 25, 2012 at 10:12 AM

    As a life long Phillies fan I am so excited about this team being one of the “big boys.” Teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, and the Phillies do not lose big time players to free agency. If they want to keep a player, chances are good they will do what it takes to keep that player.

    • tsi431 - Jul 25, 2012 at 10:16 AM

      Ah, the Phillies think they are in the same level as the Yankees and Red Sox, how cute.

      • chap6869 - Jul 25, 2012 at 10:20 AM

        Moneywise, they most certainly are! which was what 1rockyracoon was stating, so I’m not sure what your point is tsi431, other than looking foolish.

    • Francisco (FC) - Jul 25, 2012 at 10:24 AM

      We’re going to have to include the Angels into that equation. Also Texas, and the Dodgers. In this new era of Billion $ TV deals how much is too much for a deal has been turned on its head.

  5. Ben - Jul 25, 2012 at 10:26 AM

    The Phillies paid the market price for an ace. So in that sense, no, they didn’t go too big. But markets aren’t everything, and in real terms it seems totally crazy to me to dedicate 144 million dollars to a pitcher. And I really don’t think the TV-bubble economics of baseball are going to be sustainable. It just doesn’t make sense.

  6. dannythebisforbeast - Jul 25, 2012 at 10:31 AM

    They should have kept lee the FIRST time
    We might have a couple cheap prospects to fill in the gaps.

    • Jonny 5 - Jul 25, 2012 at 11:17 AM

      Yeah, how about those prospects the Phillies gave up for him? They aren’t doing much of anything and still aren’t on the radar to make anything much of their MLB career.

  7. hisgirlgotburrelled - Jul 25, 2012 at 11:29 AM

    “As of now, the Phillies owe $133 million in 2013 to only nine players”

    And peanuts to Worley, Galvis, Diekman, Bastardo, and whoever else is on the roster in Stutes, De Fratus, and Herndon. Mayberry is under control. So with $5M to Ruiz, and we’re at like $141M and at least 16 players. The Phillies can afford this because…

    “… you’re filling the house every night and, in three years, you can expect to get a windfall in local TV bucks.”

    And have now for 252 straight games. They lead baseball in average attendance, with more than 1,000 per game more than 2nd-best Texas. If their payroll is around $175M this year then they have $34M to pay a CF, RF, some bench players, and some middle relief. And I think they are willing to go to $180 million if necessary.

    They needed to keep Hamels. Whether Halladay, Howard, and Utley perform well next year is irrelevant. They can afford to pay all of these guys and still fill the roster with good players. I think a lot of this debate is based on this idea that the Phillies are paying $175M this year and cannot afford this much, and have no room for increase, and I think that is not the case.

  8. xmatt0926x - Jul 25, 2012 at 1:43 PM

    It doesn’t matter whether or not we feel that a pitcher is worth that much money. The fact is that there are several big market teams that would have gladly gave him that contract so that’s what counts. You either want to play with the big boys or not. You can’t point to a team that is currently doing well with a bunch of low paid, young players. Yeah, that is the perfect world for any franchise but that doesn’t last long. I remember Nolan Ryan being interviewed a couple seasons ago and he made the comment that he was glad that the Rangers were proving that you could win without trying to “buy” it. Well now look at the Rangers and where they are heading with all those good players. They would have gladly taken on Hamels and that contract after giving up how many tens of millions to get Darvish. What’s Washington going to do in 4 or 5 years when they want to keep Strasburg and Harper and Gonzalez, etc.? Everyone thinks because Tampa has gone year after year competing with a lower payroll that it’s an easy thing to do. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like all of Amaro’s moves by any means but you have to lock up a young lefty ace just because you made some questionable decisions on guys like Howard. The Phillies have big time attendance to go along with one of the largest television audiences in baseball. They couldn’t let a guy like Hamels go.

  9. xmatt0926x - Jul 25, 2012 at 1:48 PM

    **meant to say that you can’t point to a franchise that is currently doing well with a bunch of low paid , young players and think that it’s easy to sustain that.

  10. kevbarnett - Jul 25, 2012 at 1:57 PM

    The real key for the Phillies extending their dominant run of winning the NL East and contending next year relies on having young players contribute at low salaries. I fully expect them to give Dom Brown a legitimate chance to win a starting outfield spot and Freddy Galvis should get a chance to play 3B.

    If Brown can provide decent offensive numbers and Galvis plays a surehanded 3B the Phils will be able to fill two positions at roughly $1 million( Brown and Galvis make under $500K)

    Domonic Brown should be able to at least equal the production the Phillies are getting from the LF position this year.

    Polanco is a shell of his former self and not the .300 hitter he always has been. Galvis will most likely bat around .260 but play close to Gold Glove defense.

  11. mojosmagic - Jul 25, 2012 at 6:13 PM

    You don’t correct a couple of bad contracts by letting a home grown talent in his prime like Hamels leave. He would have gotten more as a free agent then he took to sign with the Phils.

  12. flyeredup - Jul 25, 2012 at 10:43 PM

    Actually, the Red Sox are jokes. Chicken Wing Lester blows, Beckett is horrible. Thanks for being .500 Boston

  13. sarcasticks - Jul 26, 2012 at 11:21 AM

    From a pure baseball prospective, the Phillies should trade Cliff Lee. Lee is a great pitcher, but the Phillies could use his $25 million per to address several other needs and be a much more balanced team. If they could somehow swing Mike Olt from the Rangers for Lee, it’s almost a no brainer. The only thing keeping the Phillies from doing it is a fear of alienating the fan base. Lee came back to Philly because of how much he loved being here. Shipping him off again just wanted feel “right”.

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