KANSAS CITY -- Cole Hamels is handling the free-agent dance like a Fred Astaire in red pinstripes.
In one breath, he says he loves Philadelphia, especially the fans, and appreciates all that the Phillies have done for him. And, by all means, hed like to play his entire career in Philly, just like one of his boyhood idols, Tony Gwynn, did in San Diego.
But make no mistake, the 28-year-old lefthander says in the next breath, Every human being wants to know what their value is. If you get to do it, its a pretty cool experience.
Hamels is diplomatic and respectful.
But hes also in a position of great strength.
At All-Star Game festivities Monday, Hamels played all areas of the spectrum. He is four months away from being the premier free-agent pitcher on the marketunless the Phillies can sign him to a contract extension.
Despite reports that have said there have been no substantive negotiations between the two sides in weeks, sources say the lines of communication between the Phillies and Hamels agent, John Boggs, are open and that dealings between the two sides are reaching a crucial stage. There are 22 days to go before the July 31 trade deadline. The Phillies would like to keep Hamels in red pinstripes and will either get an extension done with him in the next three weeks or look to trade him for prospects.
According to sources, not much has changed since spring training. Thats when sources said the Phillies were comfortable with the amount of money theyd have to pay Hamelssomething likely approaching the 24 million per season that they are paying Cliff Leebut length of contract was the sticking point. The Phillies at first wanted to do a four-year deal, but Hamels wanted more. Its likely the Phils are resigned to going more than four years to keep Hamels, but that still could be short of what the pitcher wants. So three weeks before the trade deadline, the two sides are in a stare down.
Will one side blink?
Will Hamels be traded?
Hamels is handling it all with the cool he displayed in October 2008, when he carried the Phillies to a World Series title.
I understand the nature of the business, he said, sitting between All-Star teammates Jonathan Papelbon and Carlos Ruiz, on Monday. In this day in age, guys get traded with free agency coming up. Its the business side of any organization. If they have to make a trade, its not something I can control.
Hamels said hed consider returning to the Phillies as a free agent if he was dealt. Though he alluded to the lure of testing the market, he more strongly indicated a desire to stay in Philadelphia and wear one uniform for his entire career, like Gwynn, another Boggs client, did in San Diego.
Of course, said Hamels when asked if hed like to be a Phillie forever. I grew up watching Tony Gwynn being a Padre forever. That says something about a person if they're able to do that. I know it's very hard in this day and age. It's something I grew up watching and hope to be able to emulate that. It's up to both sides to be able to do it.
Hamels said that if he were to become a free agent, hed always give the Phillies the first and last chance to sign him.
Ill always give them the first choice, he said. If there are multiple teams Im always going to put them at the top of my list.
The Phillies have not commented in depth on their attempt to keep Hamels, though club president David Montgomery and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. have for months, and again recently, expressed a desire to keep him.
The Phils are in last place in the NL East and their five-year playoff run is in serious jeopardy. Hamels has indicated that one poor season wont push him away from Philadelphia, that he believes the club will continue to try to win in coming seasons. That is a must for him.
It takes a long time to build up a fan base like they did, Hamels said of the Phillies. Now they have it. You don't ever want to just let it wash away. So I think they're always going to honor that. They're an organization who honors the fans. They understand the fans are what make the organization so great. They want to win. You can't do it forever. It's very hard. But you have to know how to be able to get back up and do it again. They're an organization that knows how to do that.
E-mail Jim Salisbury at email@example.com