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Commentary: It’s decision time for the Phillies

The departure of left-hander Cole Hamels may benefit the Philadelphia Phillies in the long run. (Associated Press)
The departure of left-hander Cole Hamels may benefit the Philadelphia Phillies in the long run. (Associated Press)

DENVER – It’s going to be a tension-filled couple of weeks.

The Phillies, at some point before the July 31 trade deadline, are going to make their best offer in an attempt to keep Cole Hamels. If it’s not enough, they may trade their youngest and only homegrown pitching ace.

The best-case scenario for the Phillies is to get a deal done with Hamels, because there is no better formula for winning baseball games than having three great pitchers at the top of a starting rotation.

That’s what general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. believes, and that remains the most likely outcome.

If the Phillies show up at spring training next year with Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay all healthy, they will be a contender to win the National League East, if not the favorite.

Fan reaction if the Phillies fail to extend Hamels and then trade the 2008 World Series MVP is likely to resemble the level of outrage when the Eagles let Brian Dawkins and Reggie White walk away as free agents.

Yes, they could get prospects for him now and re-sign him later, but that’s a risky move, especially if he ends up in a place like Texas and wins a World Series.

Here’s an important thing to remember: If the Phillies decide Hamels wants too much money or, more likely, too many years, it’s not the end of the world.

For proof, we offer the Seattle Mariners of the late 1990s. At the trade deadline in 1998, they dealt free-agent-to-be Randy Johnson to the Houston Astros. In return, Seattle got three players, including a young pitching prospect named Freddy Garcia and shortstop Carlos Guillen.

Hamels has been an outstanding pitcher for the Phillies – anybody who wins a World Series MVP for a franchise with a total of two World Series titles is going to be remembered fondly forever in that city – but he’s no Randy Johnson.

After the 1999 season, with Ken Griffey Jr. approaching free agency, the M’s traded the biggest star in baseball at the time to the Cincinnati Reds. Seattle got four players in return, including center- fielder Mike Cameron.

After the 2000 season, Alex Rodriguez bolted for the Rangers and signed the largest contract in baseball history at the time. In 2001, the Mariners won 116 games and went to the playoffs for the second straight year. Cameron, Garcia, and Guillen all played major roles for that team. The more significant thing was how Seattle’s general manager at the time used the financial resources freed up by the annual departure of superstars.

That general manager, of course, was Pat Gillick, a man whose opinion still carries a lot of weight in the Phillies’ front office.

For a lot less than it would have cost to retain those superstars, the Mariners signed Japanese free-agent closer Kazurhiro Sasaki and free-agent first baseman John Olerud before the 2000 season, then added Ichiro Suzuki from Japan and signed free-agent second baseman Bret Boone before the 2001 season.

In order to retain Hamels, it is likely going to cost the Phillies somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 million over at least the next six seasons and perhaps longer.

There are a lot of things you can do with $25 million per season and there is every indication the Phillies intend to remain a big spender in the coming years.

For $25 million a season, you could probably add Michael Bourn and Melky Cabrera, both of whom can be free agents after this season.

For $25 million, you could consider making a run at Josh Hamilton, another potential free agent who is the most dangerous hitter alive right now.

For $25 million, you could add free-agent pitchers Colby Lewis and Ryan Dempster to the rotation next season and not have to worry about having a pitcher on the books for six seasons.

An important thing to remember is that in addition to freeing up $25 million, you’re also going to get some decent minor- league prospects in return.

Re-signing Hamels is the preference, but his departure would not necessarily be a long-term disaster.

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