CLEARWATER, Fla. — This afternoon, Cole Hamels will discuss his impending free agency for the first (and likely last) time this spring. It's an issue that will hover over this franchise until a resolution is reached — whether it be this spring or not until November. Hamels could set the public tone for negotiations, which are expected to continue through the spring, during his press conference.
Here are the most pressing factors you need to know.
1. Cole Hamels is 28. OK, you probably already knew that. But that number is the most important of them all. Hamels is one of the only core players on this team on that side of 30. The sticking point in contract negotiations with the Phillies figures to be length, as team president David Montgomery intimated in an interview two weeks ago. All John Boggs, Hamels' agent, must do is point to the five-year, $120 million deal Cliff Lee signed. Lee was 32 when he agreed to the deal. So Boggs will likely argue Hamels is at least worth five guaranteed years and maybe more.
2. Will there be a deadline? Boggs has shown a willingness to negotiate once the season begins with his clients. Most recently, Adrian Gonzalez signed a massive eight-year deal with Boston two weeks into the 2011 season. But Hamels could decide the distraction is not productive and ask his agent to cease negotiations once the Phillies depart Florida. Boggs is expected in Phillies camp sometime this spring to meet with Ruben Amaro Jr. and his lieutenants. Setting end-of-spring deadlines for contract negotiations has become more and more popular among players and agents.
3. If he's this close, why not test the market? Hamels could very well decide that's his best option. Throughout the process, both pitcher and team have stated there is mutual interest in a deal, and Hamels has never shown a disdain for playing in Philadelphia. His wife and he are active in the community, they are raising two children in the city and it's the only organization he's ever known. But there will be players come next fall. The Red Sox, Yankees and Dodgers could all make major bids for Hamels. Then again, if Hamels waits until this winter for his megadeal, he could risk injury during the season.
4. The market isn't flush with quality pitchers. Hamels could be the prize free agent on the entire market. Of the potential starters on the market, Hamels stands above Zack Greinke, Matt Cain and Francisco Liriano. Gavin Floyd, Dan Haren, Tim Hudson, Jake Peavy and James Shields all have options for 2013.
5. How much space is there in the budget? We detailed the forthcoming $5 billion or so cash infusion beginning in 2016 thanks to the Phillies' next TV deal. While the team prefers staying under the luxury tax, a Hamels deal could push them over. Again, that future money could make it easier to spend lavishly now.
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