What If… Cole Hamels Edition

From now until the end of time I’ll be playing a game that all sports fanatics can’t resist. The game allows you to wonder a simple question that wields numerous answers. The question is simply what if?. Here are some examples of what if questions… What if the Pistons drafted Carmelo instead of Darko? What if Gordon Hayward’s shot went in against Duke? It’s by far more fun to do it with topics that could happen in the future, which is what I’ll be doing for the purposes of these columns.

What if Cole Hamels signs with the Los Angeles Dodgers? It’s not that farfetched right? He’s from San Diego. He grew up watching the Padres and the Dodgers. He’s looking for a long term contract and the new management in Los Angeles is looking to make a big time splash to try and revitalize the fan base (they’re going to have to do more things than just signing new players to fill the monstrous Dodger Stadium. An idea I came up with is dizzy defense, there would be a basketball hoop set up in the parking lot, a person plops down 10 bucks and gets three chances to guard Magic Johnson, if he scores you chug a beer, if he scores again you chug three, and if he goes trifecta on you that’s five brewskis. The line for the game would be just as long as the line to the port o’ potty).

It’s very hard to imagine Hamels in anything but a Phillies jersey, but fans of the Philadelphia baseball club think back and remember how weird it was to imagine not seeing Jayson Werth’s werewolf beard in the outfield every game. It wasn’t until about midway through the 2010 season that fans realized hey, this guy isn’t going to be with us next year! Sure enough once the season ended he did his best Rod Tidwell impression (Show me the money!) and signed a (pick your desired adjective) contract with Washington. Imagining Hamels in Dodger blue is actually easier for me than seeing Werth in National red.

Now that ridiculous deal that Washington made with Werth actually kind of makes sense. The money still looks absurd (because it is, 7 years/$126 million!) but Jayson does look like a key piece in a bright future (a Harper,Werth,Morse outfield is going to be a force at the plate). What the Nationals sold to Werth is exactly what the Dodgers can sell to Hamels. This is how I think that conversation would go:

Dodgers: “Hey Cole, not only will you be getting the contract you want, you’ll also be pitching alongside 24 year old Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. We have a MVP talent in Matt Kemp, we’ll resign Either and we have one of the best SS prospects in Dee Gordon. We’ll go after Matt Cain (Giants beat me here, so let’s go with James Shields instead) to boost the rotation even more. You’ll give us the chance to win the NL West every year for the foreseeable future instead of having to grind out the next couple years in the toughest division in baseball.”

Hamels: “Cool, let me go over it with my wife.”

That rotation would be the second best in baseball only to… the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The team that stole the hardball fever of Los Angeles from the Dodgers. The Angels are now the trendy team to like out in Southern Cali and don’t think for a second that the new management of the Dodgers doesn’t have the Angels logo on their office dartboards. The only way to make that $2 billion dollar investment seem logical is if the Dodgers brand becomes the western time zone version of the Yankees. That means going out and buying the best possible team for the future and that is why Hamels is a perfect fit for LA. He’s the best pitcher on the market in this upcoming offseason and the Dodgers need him more so than the Phillies do.

Philadelphia currently has two of the best pitchers in baseball locked up through the next two years. Roy Halladay has a $20 million club option in 2014 and barring an injury I find it hard to imagine that the Phillies won’t lock up Doc for the rest of his career even if it is through short term contracts. Cliff Lee is signed on through the 2015 season with a club option in 2016. Hamels is going to make $15 million this season after he and the Phillies avoided arbitration during this past offseason. The three pitchers alone are going to make $56.5 million this season (the total payroll this season is currently at $172.9 million, the second highest in baseball). Next year’s pay roll is going to be even crazier. The combined salary of six players (Doc, Lee, Howard, Papelbon, Rollins, Utley) is higher than the entire 2008 payroll ($104 million>$98 million).

In what has been reported between the two sides of the Hamels contract negotiations, it is not the money that is the problem ($20+ mil estimate); it is the length of the deal that is holding the two sides up. Whatever the case, Hamels has been just as quiet on the issue as you would expect him to be, but hey wouldn’t you be too? He knows that after the season is over he is going to wear the hottest free agent tag, the money is basically guaranteed already so why worry about it. It would be puzzling if the Phillies management actually let that scenario take place. They would be playing roulette with a world series MVP by letting him hear offers from other teams. Maybe the Phillies could replace his regular season stats with another Ruben Amaro free agent, but they couldn’t replace the fans disappointment if Hamels were to walk away and in the end isn’t that who you should care about the most?

If you’re the Phillies and Hamels’ asking price is six years with at least $20 mil guaranteed, you give him that contract with no questions asked. He was the instrumental part of the team that skyrocketed the popularity of the Phillies brand. He was the instrumental part of the team that made local casual fans diehards. He was the instrumental part of the team that boosted local television ratings higher than any other market (which will land the team a ridiculous television contract in 2014 when negotiations take place). If Hamels means that much to the organization, why is a long term contract such an issue?

It is possible that management is worried about what happens after Doc and Lee eventually age past their primes (even though with Doc’s insane regimen it’s conceivable that he’ll be able to be effective into his early 40s). Maybe they don’t see Hamels as the future ace of the ballclub when Halladay isn’t able lead the rotation. Take away his ’07 season and the numbers aren’t exactly what you would want from your ace (in the four seasons after the WS MVP, 129 starts 50-41 8 CGs 769 K’s 3.32 ERA). The argument against his underwhelming record would come from his lack of run support during the past two seasons (3.6 in ’10, 3.9 in ’11). Last year he sought the help of a sports physiologist to help level out his head (Hamels was getting frustrated wayyyyyy too easily in ’09 and ’10 likely because of the disappointment of losing the WS to the Yankees the year before and seeing his overall numbers take a serious dive in ’09). Just look at those stats again, are those the type of numbers that you want to see from your ace? No they aren’t. Are those the kind of stats that the Dodgers would be happy with? Absolutely because it positions them as potential favorites in a weak NL (seriously look at the teams in the National League and try to make a case for any of them being dominant powerhouses for years to come… I’m waiting… hello!?)

The Dodgers have their ace of the future, so the front office wouldn’t see Hamels as an eventual successor to Kershaw, but rather a Robin to his Batman. Only Robin would be making a lot more money than Batman early on. If the Phillies are considering giving Hamels $20+ mil in the next contract it seems conceivable that the Dodgers would offer Cole 6-7 years $150-$160 million dollars. Looks preposterous but consider this; LAD would be locking up Hamels for life, he would be the perfect complement to a rotation headed by Kershaw (firethrowing righty-then lefty combo). Hamels would be back pitching where he grew up with his family watching in a luxury box (I imagine this would have to be part of the negotiations).

He would be away from the media hell that is Philadelphia, but he would be away from the fans that truly love him, the fans that will remember his name until they die because of what he did in ’08. Hamels admittedly loves the Philadelphia area, he loves the passion of the fans, but most importantly he loves suiting up every time and performing in front of those fans. Philadelphia for so long was a football city, but in the last six years it has become a baseball crazed area, but it isn’t the second biggest city in the country that features a team that needs to be revived.

The Dodgers are an iconic brand that needs a championship run to get back to the top shelf. Think about a Yankees-Dodgers World Series, or better yet a modern day Yankees-Dodgers rivalry. It’s that type of series that baseball needs in order to try and make a dent in the overwhelming popularity of the NFL. Cole Hamels could be the main piece in something that is much bigger than anyone realizes.

What if next year it’s Hamels vs. Halladay in game one of the NLDS? See that’s why it’s so much fun to play this game.

Follow me on twitter @Scottdargis.


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