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Thursday, July 19, 2012
Updated: July 21, 1:31 PM ET
Sources: Cole Hamels talks intensify

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Phillies and Cole Hamels' agent, John Boggs, have picked up the pace of contract discussions in recent days, sources said, and those intensified talks are an indication the Phillies have started a major push to sign Hamels before the July 31 trade deadline.

Meanwhile, clubs that have been speaking with the Phillies say the team has essentially put trade talks on hold and have been much more focused on signing the 28-year-old left-hander than on dealing him before the deadline.

"They want to sign him, and that's their priority," said an official of one club who spoke with the Phillies' brass this week. "They're really not even entertaining (trade) offers at this point."

Another source said the Phillies are now willing to sign Hamels to a six-year contract, a first for any starting pitcher in club history. For months, length of contract has been the No. 1 sticking point in the negotiations. The Phillies initially offered Hamels a four-year extension last offseason, but they came to the conclusion they had no alternative but to soften that stance as Hamels draws closer to becoming a free agent this fall.

The market for Hamels has been shaped in the past few months by the five-year, $112.5 million extension signed by San Francisco Giants right-hander Matt Cain in April, which guaranteed him six years and $127.5 million when his salary for 2012 was factored in.

The Phillies themselves also influenced that market with the five-year, $120 million deal they agreed to with Cliff Lee in December 2010, a contract that established a then-record average annual value for a pitcher at $24 million per season.

Although the Phillies' payroll is approaching the $178 million luxury-tax threshold (and actually already may have exceeded it), the club believes it can find a way to sign Hamels and stay under the threshold in 2013 and beyond, a source said.

To do that, the Phillies likely would have to trade away at least one veteran player and possibly more. Other teams say they've been significantly more interested in discussing potential deals for players such as Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton, Placido Polanco and even Jimmy Rollins than they have for Hamels.

The Phillies also have laid the groundwork for trading Hamels if negotiations break down by scouting the farm systems of the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Dodgers and a number of other teams. But as an official of one team put it, the Phillies are "not in a hurry to do anything right now -- except sign Cole Hamels."