Hamels expresses desire to stay in Philly

Hamels expresses desire to stay in Philly

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Cole Hamels said a couple of things on Monday that should ease the minds of Phillies fans.

Hamels said he has no deadline to reach an agreement on a contract extension, like Albert Pujols had with the St. Louis Cardinals last year.

He also said he wants to stay in Philadelphia.

"Baseball, if you do it really well, you can make a ton of money. But, ultimately, I play this game because I love to do it, and I want to be the best at it," Hamels said during a news conference at Bright House Field. "If you're able to do that, the money obviously comes. But I'm a pretty conservative guy, and money's not the ultimate answer to anything. It's really about going out and enjoying where you are, your teammates and the city, and I seem to really enjoy Philadelphia."

But Hamels will become a free agent following this season, unless he signs an extension first.

Despite what Hamels said Monday, nothing should be considered a certainty. And for good reason. Hamels is likely seeking a contract worth more than $100 million, and the Phillies already have three players on their roster making $20 million or more per year: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Ryan Howard. The Phillies have other notable players who will become free agents in upcoming seasons: Shane Victorino, following this season, and Hunter Pence following 2013.

How many high-priced talents can the Phillies afford, knowing they already are so close to the luxury-tax threshold?

Of course, the next question is how can they afford not to keep Hamels? He is considered one of the best pitchers in baseball, and could be hitting his prime. He has 74 wins since he reached the big leagues in 2006, which is tied for 20th over that span. Hamels is third in WHIP (1.14), fourth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.74), 15th in ERA (3.39), 16th in innings (1,161 1/3) and 19th in opponent OPS (.682).

Hamels is also five years younger than Halladay and Lee. Halladay, 34, waived his no-trade clause to sign a three-year, $60 million extension with the Phillies in 2009. Lee, 33, signed a five-year, $120 million contract with Philadelphia in 2010.

Hamels is likely to use Halladay's and Lee's contracts as benchmarks when thinking about his next deal. He avoided salary arbitration when he agreed to a one-year, $15 million contract with the Phillies in January. By all accounts, the Phillies have a fine working relationship with Hamels' agent John Boggs, so there are reasons to be optimistic.

But again, it has to be a deal both sides think is fair. If Hamels is worried about striking a deal, he did not show it on Monday.

"I'm just going out and getting ready for this year," Hamels said. "That's my main focus ... to get as strong as possible throughout Spring Training, and go into the season and try to help this team win. That's everything I've always been able to focus on, especially since we haven't been back to the World Series in a couple of years."

Hamels had two surgeries in the offseason: one on his left elbow to remove a bone spur, and the other to repair a sports hernia. He began throwing in November, and Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee said Hamels looked good during his first bullpen session in Spring Training.

Hamels has had health issues in the past, but he said playing without a contract beyond this season is not a risk.

"I really haven't had the serious surgeries," Hamels said. "I know how to overcome them. I know how to rehab. I know how to get through them. They're not going to mentally take me down. I know how to come back and be just as strong or as capable as I always was."

If he is stronger than last season -- 14-9 with a 2.79 ERA in 32 games -- he will be in line for a major payday.

"Ever since I've been here, [the Phillies have] been able to do a really good job of keeping the guys that they draft, especially the guys that they like," Hamels said. "I just hope I'm one of those guys that they like."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Zo Zone. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.