Hamels focusing on starting for Phillies, not trade rumors

Left-hander tabbed for Opening Day assignment vs. Red Sox

Hamels focusing on starting for Phillies, not trade rumors

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- It became the standard joke every time Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels made another Spring Training start and moved closer and closer to Monday's Opening Day start at Citizens Bank Park.

It went something like this:

Hey, Hamels is starting Opening Day.

Ah, but for what team?

Ba-dum-bump.

Hamels arrived to Phillies camp in February already the subject of incessant trade speculation because the Phillies are trying to dismantle and rebuild their team in an attempt to compete again in a few years. But the talk really picked up when he told USA Today he wants to win and, "I know it's not going to happen here."

Hamels never recanted, but he backed away from those words, understanding he is going to be in a Phillies uniform until somebody tells him otherwise. In other words, he needs to make the best of the situation. He also appreciates the Phillies and the fans, and everything that has happened to him in his career.

The Phillies selected him in the first round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft. He won a World Series in 2008. He signed a six-year, $144 million contract extension in 2012.

He has a home outside Philadelphia.

Hamels does not want to disrespect anybody. If he is going to leave, he wants to leave on good terms.

So he has dodged, ducked, dipped and dived at nearly every question this spring about his uncertain future. Asked Wednesday if it will feel funny pitching against the Red Sox on Opening Day, considering Boston is often mentioned as a landing spot for Hamels because the Phillies covet Boston's top prospects, he said, "No, we knew we were going to face the Red Sox. When did they come out with the schedule? August? September?

"This is where I am, and this is what I'm doing," he said. "To be able to pitch at Citizens Bank [Park] is going to be the vision I had. For what it is and what people want to make it, it doesn't affect me. I'm just happy enough that I get to go pitch and get guys out and try to pitch a full season."

Other teams have expressed serious interest in Hamels, including the Padres, Rangers and Blue Jays. Maybe one of those teams (or the always exciting mystery team) finally makes the offer the Phillies want to trade their ace.

Maybe it happens in the offseason.

Maybe it happens next year or beyond.

In the meantime, Hamels will pitch for a team moving in an unfamiliar direction. This is the first time Hamels has opened the season with the Phillies not expected to compete for the postseason. In fact, many think this team could lose 100 games for the first time since 1961, when it lost 107.

"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."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone. Follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.