In a parallel universe, Bud Selig wakes up Monday morning and decides it is time for his latest initiative to invigorate Major League Baseball. Every team can keep just one player this winter from its current roster and must sign said player to a long-term contract of at least five years. Everyone else is a free agent.
Is there even a question as to whom the Phillies would select?
He's lefthanded. He's 28. He's homegrown.
Yet Cole Hamels is four months from reaching free agency. He is the only core player from this run of success the Phillies have not locked up. He is the only one, with the exception of Hunter Pence, under 30.
He is about to enter his prime years, those of which could be spent not pitching in red pinstripes. It would be a tragedy after all of the energy, time, and attention the Phillies have put into Hamels.
This has dragged on long enough. Both sides have played hardball, and contact has been limited, but the parameters are clear. All it takes is one phone call. It must come from Ruben Amaro Jr.
If the Phillies general manager was willing to offer a five-year, $120 million deal to Cliff Lee as a 32-year-old lefty, surely he can replicate at least that for Hamels. Indications are Amaro has not.
Does Amaro seriously think Hamels will not beat Lee's deal on the open market, with the Dodgers, Yankees, and Red Sox perhaps entering the fray?
The Phillies must decide whether they are serious bidders for Hamels before the July 31 trade deadline. If they are unwilling to meet - or even inch closer - to Hamels' demands, they should trade him for the best prospect package available and forever sever ties.
Obviously, a pact is complex. Hamels wants to be paid like an elite pitcher. The Phillies are already paying for two elite pitchers and have the most expensive payroll in the National League.
Ownership has been willing to stretch in certain circumstances, the Lee situation being one of them. David Montgomery has previously shown an affinity for his homegrown talent. Add in Hamels' active charitable endeavors through the Hamels Foundation, and he is the model athlete for this team to build around.
No doubt, it would cost the Phillies a great deal. Hamels is a proud man; he once publicly chided the Phillies for renewing him to a $500,000 deal in 2008 when he wanted $750,000.
He cares about his perceived value, which is growing by the day. CC Sabathia once signed a seven-year, $161 million deal with the Yankees entering his age-28 season. No one knows if Hamels and his agent, John Boggs, can achieve that number, but it is hardly a pipe dream.
The Phillies would rather point to the contract signed last August by Jered Weaver and the Los Angeles Angels. Weaver took a hometown discount to stay for a five-year, $85 million deal. His career numbers are similar to Hamels' - both have made two all-star teams and neither has won a Cy Young Award.
Had Weaver waited until this winter, he certainly would have fetched a more lucrative deal. He was not willing to risk an injury or leave a familiar environment, so he settled for a mere $85 million. Meanwhile, Hamels is interested in testing the market if the Phillies cannot meet his demands.
He has earned that right.
Weaver at least can boast his status as the highest-paid pitcher in Angels history. Even when the team lured C.J. Wilson through free agency, the Angels were sure to keep that distinction for Weaver, their homegrown arm.
Then Matt Cain signed the richest deal for a righthander ever - six years, $127.5 million - in April, and the Weaver deal was irrelevant. Cain signed the deal as a 27-year-old pitcher with a year more of service time than Hamels and similar career numbers.
The Phillies will point to wins. Hamels has never won more than 15 games in a season, and that was 2007. They will say Hamels has never won a Cy Young. He has never led the league in ERA.
None of that precludes Hamels from being an elite pitcher on the verge of his prime years.
Only 12 starting pitchers in baseball history have had a better Adjusted ERA (or ERA+) and as many strikeouts than Hamels through their first seven seasons. Their names: Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, Tom Seaver, Roger Clemens, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Christy Mathewson, Bob Feller, Juan Marichal, Bert Blyleven, Felix Hernandez, Ferguson Jenkins, and Don Drysdale. Ten are Hall of Famers. The other two are not yet eligible.
(Adjusted ERA compensates for ballpark factors and league averages to normalize one rate that better compares pitchers across different eras of baseball.)
Logic dictates the Phillies must spend on Hamels. They did, after all, sign a pitcher four years his elder for five years and $120 million.
This deal can still happen, and it should.