The Phillies and Cole Hamels on Tuesday agreed to a one-year, $15 million contract, which allowed them to avoid salary arbitration. The deal also allows them to focus on a possible multiyear extension before Hamels becomes a free agent following the 2012 season.
"We have cost certainty and the player has cost certainty," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "Now we can go from there. This doesn't preclude us from doing a long-term deal. We can negotiate with Cole from today through the end of November, and then beyond that to get a multiyear deal done. Just because we have a one-year deal in place doesn't mean we can't do something long term. As far as Cole beyond 2012, that's something that's still very much open for discussion."
Hamels is line for a major payday, but how large remains to be seen. But think Cliff Lee more than Jered Weaver.
Weaver signed a five-year, $85 million contract extension last summer with the Los Angeles Angels, but Weaver bypassed free agency partly because he wanted to stay in Southern California and play for his hometown team. Weaver and Hamels have remarkably similar career statistics, so it is easy to think Hamels might be paid in that range: Hamels is 77-54 with a 3.39 ERA in 181 career appearances. He has a 1.141 WHIP and averages 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings. Weaver is 82-47 with a 3.31 ERA in 171 career appearances. He has a 1.165 WHIP and averages 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings.
But John Boggs, Hamels' agent, on Tuesday called the Weaver deal a "non-starter" in negotiations.
"It would be natural to look at that as a comparison," Boggs said. "Jered signed for his own personal reasons -- and I applaud him for that -- but it doesn't necessarily mean we're going to follow the same standard. Everybody is different. For Jered to sign there, it doesn't mean that's the template we're going to follow."
Lee signed a five-year, $120 million contract with the Phils in December 2010. That certainly seems to be a better measuring stick for Hamels.
"Absolutely," Boggs said. "If you're this close to free agency, you start to make comparables of what you have the potential of making as a free agent."
Lee signed his deal at 32. Hamels is 28. It stands to reason Hamels will be looking for a contract worth $20 million or more per season.
But there is genuine interest on both sides to reach an agreement. Finalizing Hamels' 2012 contract could be the first step.
"The goal was to get that out of the way," Boggs said. "I'm sure down the road we'll have a conversation about moving forward. We plan on keeping the discussions open. It's a process."
Boggs said he hasn't talked to Hamels about setting any potential deadline regarding negotiations, which some players have done in the past.
"At the end of the day, we really don't have any concrete game plan as far as how long we are going to plan on discussing this," Boggs said. "That will be decided at some point shortly, or as we get into the process. But there's definitely a desire to stay. At the end of the day, it really depends on the value we place on Cole, and hopefully it coincides with the value the Phillies place on Cole. That's the reason you have a negotiation. From a basic desire, yes, he'd be more than happy to stay there. He knows the Phillies. He's homegrown. That's what we'll attempt to do, but sometimes things don't work out if we can't agree on the value."
Philadelphia on Tuesday also avoided salary arbitration with infielder Wilson Valdez, who agreed to a one-year, $930,000 contract.
Outfielder Hunter Pence is the only Phillies player still eligible for salary arbitration, although an agreement can be reached up until the moment the team and player are supposed to meet with arbiters. Both sides exchanged figures on Tuesday, with Pence requesting $11.8 million and the Phillies offering $9 million.
Asked if he thinks they will avoid arbitration with Pence, Amaro said, "I have no idea. We stay cautiously optimistic."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.