CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Cole Hamels is stuck in the middle.
Hamels has said for months he does not want to spend the remaining prime years of his baseball career playing on a losing team. He sharpened his words Wednesday, when he told USA Today he wants to win and "and I know it's not going to happen here." He likely feels that way because the Phillies have said they are rebuilding and unlikely to compete again until 2017 or '18.
But Hamels also appreciates his time in Philadelphia. The Phillies drafted him in 2002. He won a World Series in '08. He signed a six-year, $144 million contract extension in '12. He lives in the area. He appreciates the fans.
Hamels wants to be honest, but he also does not want to sound ungrateful. He does not want to offend.
So Hamels backed away from his harsh assessment in a sometimes-uncomfortable 25-minute news conference Saturday afternoon at Bright House Field. He answered questions about his desire to remain in Philadelphia with members of the Phillies front office seated nearby, including team chairman David Montgomery.
Montgomery handed Hamels the $144 million contract a few years ago.
"You have to be accountable for what you do," Hamels said. "You know, I can't, I guess, be liked by everybody. You know, that's not the goal. You're not going to be politically correct any time you ever say anything. I think everybody learns that. You're not going to appease everybody. So this is who I am.
"For what it's worth, I've always tried to be very honest with people in general. I don't cue-card it. I don't have my cue cards up here giving you the straight-laced answers that I know a lot of people have been able to get away with."
Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon and Hamels each addressed reporters this week. In the past, each has indicated or said flatly they would like to play for a winner or play elsewhere. But the trio followed the good teammate script. They said they are happy to be in Philadelphia. They said they believe they can win here.
"You can't count us out," Hamels said. "We all have the opportunity to prove people wrong."
Hamels deflected questions about his desire to be traded, because expressing those desires does not benefit one of the most popular and successful pitchers in franchise history.
"I've made my home in Philadelphia since the very beginning," Hamels said, when asked if he would welcome a trade. "This is where I'm fully committed."
Hamels said his comments in USA Today were a continuation from a conversation in January. The latest comments came Tuesday. He said his feelings expressed in the story followed stories from the winter about how the Phillies won't win in the future.
So are those his feelings today?
"At this given moment, I'm a Phillie," Hamels said.
So does he want to go somewhere where he can win?
"Right now I know that as we start, I think we're 0-0," Hamels said. "I think everybody's in first place. I don't think any one of you guys have written anything about how we're going to compete and win our division. So it's something for us to take as a group and to go out there and prove to people the type of players that we are."
So how did he react when Phillies president Pat Gillick said it would take a few years to complete the rebuilding process?
"I have no control over a certain direction," Hamels said. "An organization, they have a bigger picture that they have to worry about. As a player, we really have to take the straight-and-narrow approach. We have a job to do, people are counting on us, and I think that's kind of what an organization, an upper management, has to worry about, is what players are going to be accountable, what direction can we go with what we have. I'm just one piece of the puzzle, and as long as I can go out and do what they expect, then I'm fulfilling my end of the bargain."
Trading Hamels would speed up the rebuilding process, because he is the only Phillies veteran relatively young and still in his prime. Theoretically, the club could get a load of talent in return.
But it will not be easy. Philadelphia still has the unsuccessful 2009 Cliff Lee trade with Seattle on its mind, so it must get something it loves in return. The Phillies can't miss. Hamels also is owed $96 million, which includes $22.5 million in salary each of the next four seasons, plus a $6 million buyout on a '19 club option worth $20 million. They want Hamels' new team to pay the entire contract, or most of it. Teams might balk if they plan to give the Phillies the prospects they want.
Asked if he would require the club option to be picked up to waive his limited no-trade clause, Hamels said, "That's a family decision."
Hamels is in a tough spot. He wants to play for a winner, but at the moment, he does not want to upset or alienate the organization or fan base.
"I'm very fortunate to be in the position that I am," Hamels said. "To be that player that's been able to win a World Series for a very historical franchise, and to make my home in Philly and see what sports really do mean to Philly fans, it's been nice. And being able to go out and represent not only the organization, but the city of Philadelphia, has been an honor. And I think I'll remain to do so until I'm told that I can't."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.