In the 2009 offseason, the Philadelphia Phillies traded former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee to Seattle because they had a firm rule about not offering extended, mega contracts to pitchers.
They ate their words last December by bringing Lee back to Philly on a five-year deal worth over $120 million. But that doesn’t mean they’ve changed their ways.
When Lee signed with Philly, the baseball world immediately started gushing over the Phillies stellar starting rotation. Roy Halladay, the undisputed Ace of the Aces, Lee, Roy Oswalt, who was only acquired during last season, Cole Hamels and the often overlooked but still dependable Joe Blanton.
The Phillies were rocked with injuries in spring training, so everyone thought their pitching would have to be stellar for at least the first month because their offense wouldn’t be able to get it done. That hasn’t been exactly how it’s gone, but the Phillies have still opened with a 7-2 record.
Hamels had the team’s first loss in their fourth game, which came against the New York Mets. The former NLCS and World Series MVP didn’t make it out of the third inning and was soundly booed off by his home fans for surrendering six runs.
He put on a solid display for a win over Atlanta in his next outing, but that in no way cements his status. Of course, you have to wonder, why on Earth would the Phillies want to break up this stellar rotation?
Well, there can be such a thing as having too many Aces.
Especially when other teams with seemingly bottomless checkbooks and numerous prospects are in such dire need of one of their own.
Hamels is in the last year of his current contract, and it’s not likely he’ll get a new one like Lee. The Phillies had to fight off the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers, so they sucked it up and paid what they had to get Lee.
They won’t want to do it again. Especially when the rest of the lineup starts looking a bit older and more injury prone and they think about how many hot prospects or young, capable hitters a star pitcher is worth.
The Yankees needed a big-time pitcher badly in the offseason, and that hasn’t changed. A guy like Hamels would turn their weak, holed rotation into a solid one overnight, and they’ve never met a price tag they didn’t love.
The Boston Red Sox were the other team to make big waves in the offseason, and while they were in the race for Lee a little bit, they made the headlines by adding big hitters. But their 1-8 record to start the season is due almost entirely to their lack of solid pitching.
Their hitters haven’t been able to get anything going, but it’s hard to blame them too much when the staff has an ERA of 6.24.
Red Sox owner John Henry, who also owns English Premier League club Liverpool FC, needs a true Ace on his staff who is going to give his hitters a real chance and also pick up the other guys in the rotation, who are better than their record. And again, his pockets are plenty deep.
Now, Hamels may be the kind of guy who loves his team and city and wants to stay there no matter what, so he may take whatever kind of deal the Phils offer him. He’d definitely get something along the lines of Halladay’s three-year, $60 million deal.
But what if the 27-year-old thinks he can get a mega-deal and the chance to be the star of an entire franchise somewhere else? He, like each of the Phils’ first four starters, would hands down be the star of almost every other team in the majors, and he might want that.
Ultimately, it’ll be down to what the Phillies want to do. Even without Hamels, that rotation is pretty imposing, but getting rid of a pitcher of his caliber, no matter what you get in return and what you have left, can come back to haunt you sooner than you think.
After all, Cliff Lee made it back to the World Series last season while the Phillies were left at home.